What are the Risks of Swine Flu?

Swine flu is any one of several types of influenza normally found in pig populations. Very rarely, swine flu can be transmitted to humans in what is called a zoonotic transmission. The risks of swine flu are considerable, and the annals of history record a path through human cases of swine flu that is both bloody and recurrent.

A type of flu known as influenza A or C, swine flu may present with normal flu symptoms. These may include fever, chills, muscle ache, fatigue, and coughing. For many people, the risks of swine flu may be no different that the risks of any other influenza infection; most will start to feel better within about seven days and have no complications in recovery. For others, symptoms may worsen, leading to pneumonia, heart and organ failure, or even death.

Perhaps the greatest risk of swine flu is its potential to cause pandemics. Easily transmitted through exposure to infected sputum or fluids, the movement of the flu is also helped along by the fact that many people are contagious well before developing symptoms, thus being silent carriers that can infect hundreds before they know they are ill.


Many of the great flu epidemics in history are attributed to forms of swine flu, including the extraordinarily deadly pandemic in 1918. Coinciding with the First World War, the 1918 pandemic is thought to be responsible for the majority of war casualties, as well as doing massive damage throughout the world. According to some statistics, the flu may have had as high as a 20% mortality rate, and may have infected at least one-third of the world's population. It is believed to have killed at least 50 million people, though some estimates suggest the death toll may have been closer to 100 million. The fatal risks of swine flu in this particular outbreak were far greater than in the far milder 2009 epidemic.

The risks of swine flu have less to do with the infection itself, and more with the health and constitution of the infected person. Those with existing heart or lung problems may be more likely to develop secondary infections, respiratory failure, or even pneumonia. Different epidemics have targeted different populations: some have been most deadly to the elderly or to young children, but the 2009 epidemic seemed to strike mostly healthy adults.

Medical experts insist that the risks of swine flu can be controlled to some degree through prevention, education, and treatment efforts. Understanding how the flu is passed and educating people on good hygiene is believed to play a major part in slowing the spread of the disease. Swine flu vaccines may also be available in many areas, giving temporary increased immunity toward certain strains of influenza. Recognizing the symptoms is also important, as some anti-viral medications may be able to lessen the severity of symptoms and complications if given early on in the illness.



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