What is swine flu?

Like people, pigs can get influenza (flu), but swine flu viruses aren't the same as human flu viruses. Swine flu doesn't often infect people, and the rare human cases that have occurred in the past have mainly affected people who had direct contact with pigs. But the current swine flu outbreak is different.

How is the current swine flu different?

The current swine flu outbreak is caused by a new swine flu virus that has spread from person to person -- and it's happening among people who haven't had any contact with pigs. Here is a picture of the new swine flu virus, colorized and magnified

What are swine flu symptoms?

Symptoms of swine flu are like regular flu symptoms and include fever, cough, sore throat, body aches, headache, chills, and fatigue. Some people have reported diarrhea and vomiting associated with swine flu. Those symptoms can also be caused by many other conditions, and that means that you and your doctor can't know, just based on your symptoms, if you've got swine flu. It takes a lab test to tell whether it's swine flu or some other condition.

How does swine flu spread?

The new swine flu virus apparently spreads just like regular flu. You could pick up germs directly from an infected person, or by touching an object they recently touched, and then touching your eyes, mouth, or nose, delivering their germs for your own infection. That's why you should make a habit of washing your hands, even when you're not ill. Flu germs can start spreading up to a day before symptoms start, and for up to seven days after getting sick, according to the CDC.

When should I see my doctor?

That's a judgment call you would have to make if you feel like you've got the flu. But if you've got flu symptoms, and you've recently been to a high-risk area like Mexico, CDC officials recommend that you see your doctor. Keep in mind that your doctor will not be able to determine whether you have swine flu, but he would take a sample from you and send it to a state health department lab for testing to see if it's swine flu. If your doctor suspects swine flu, he would be able to write you a prescription for Tamiflu or Relenza.

How is swine flu treated?

The new swine flu virus is sensitive to the antiviral drugs Tamiflu and Relenza. The CDC recommends those drugs to prevent or treat swine flu; the drugs are most effective when taken within 48 hours of the start of flu symptoms. But not everyone needs those drugs; many of the first people in the U.S. with lab-confirmed swine flu recovered without treatment. The Department of Homeland Security has released 25% of its stockpile of Tamiflu and Relenza to states. Health officials have asked people not to hoard Tamiflu or Relenza.

How many people have swine flu?

That's a hard question to answer, because the figure is changing so quickly. If you want to keep track of U.S. cases that have been confirmed by lab tests and reported to the CDC, check the CDC's web site. If you're looking for cases in other countries, visit the World Health Organization's web site. And, when you hear about large numbers of people who are ill, remember that lab tests may not yet have been done to confirm that they have swine flu. And, there may be a little lag time before confirmed cases make it into the official tally.

How severe is swine flu?

The severity of cases in the current swine flu outbreak has varied widely. In Mexico, there have been deaths and other severe cases. Early cases in the U.S. have been mild. But that could change. The virus itself could change, either becoming more or less dangerous. Scientists are watching closely to see which way the new swine flu virus is heading — but health experts warn that flu viruses are notoriously hard to predict, as far as how and when they'll change.

Swine Flu Symptoms

How do you know if you have a cold or flue ? Here are the symptoms of the two illnesses !

Fewer Rare Usually highi sudden onset Lasts 3-4 days
Headaches Rare Frequent
Aches & Pains Slight Usual often quite severe
Weakness Rare / mild Moderate to extreme Can last up to one month
Bedridden Rarely Frequently lasts 5 to 10 days
Sniffles Common Sometimes
Sneezing Usual Sometimes
Sore Throat Common Sometimes
Cough Sometimes Mild to moderate Usual can become severe
Complications Sinus or ear infection Pneumonia, kidney failure, heart failure, can be life threatening