There is a lot of scary information out there on the H1N1 flu virus. What do you really need to know?
And I think life wouldn’t be complete without my disclaimer. So here it is:
This podcast is for informational purposes only. My goal is to add to your medical knowledge and translate some of that weird medical stuff you hear, so when you do go to your doctor, your visits will be more fruitful. I don’t intend to replace your doctor. He or she is the one you should always consult for your own medical conditions.
What is Swine Flu?
So let’s get back to swine flu, or swan flu as they say here in the Deep South. There is a lot of confusion and misinformation regarding this virus. Let me clear up some of these myths:
You don’t get this type of flu from eating pork (or swans, for that matter)
Your pet pig Fluffy is not in grave danger; and please don’t bring your pig to your doctor’s office. We don’t treat pigs.
To avoid this confusion, I will call it H1N1 and explain later why it is sometimes called swine flu.
Why is the H1N1 (Swine Flu) Virus So Dangerous?
So what’s the deal? Some folks are talking about H1N1 like it is the Black Death, while others think the dire predictions are a bunch of hooey. One of the main take-home messages of my last podcast was that the regular yearly flu is dangerous, killing 30,000 people in the US every year. The most recent estimates I have read have speculated that H1N1 in its current form could kill between 30 and 90 thousand Americans. Let me put these numbers into perspective: prostate cancer kills 27,000 men each year in the US, and breast cancer kills 41,000 women.
What is it that makes this virus so bad? In my last podcast, I talked about the two forms of influenza, A and B. H1N1 is in the influenza A family, which is the worse of the normal flu strains. A is worse because it can change more and fool the immune system better than B.
The A virus can also infect animals, which is a very important fact. While in animals, the virus can change outside of the watchful eye of the human immune system. When the animal-infecting variety then combines with a human strain (which viruses can do), it can form a virus that is very different from the usual A strains. Many of these new viruses from animals infect a person but still can’t be transmitted from one person to another. But occasionally an animal-associated virus not only infects people, but also is transmissible from one person to another. When that happens, it can cause a pandemic.