Tuesday, April 28, 2009

Swine Flu--What does it mean for your health?

This week there has emerged a new influenza A virus in Mexico which can be spread from person to person by contact. The virus contains genetic material from four different flu viruses – North American swine influenza, North American avian influenza, human influenza, and swine influenza virus typically found in Asia and Europe swine virus, a bird virus and a human virus. (Sharing of genetic material between viruses is common). The virus seems to have originated in Mexico and has spread throughout the country quickly, as well as to the US Europe and New Zealand. All the confirmed cases seem to have contacted the virus while traveling in Mexico and then brought it back to their country of origin. The first US cases occurred on April 17, 2009, in two children who resided in adjacent counties in southern California.

Swine Influenza (swine flu) is a respiratory disease of pigs caused by type A influenza virus that regularly causes outbreaks of influenza in pigs. Like all influenza viruses, swine flu viruses change constantly. Pigs can be infected by avian influenza and human influenza viruses as well as swine influenza viruses. At this time, there are four main influenza type A virus subtypes that have been isolated in pigs: H1N1, H1N2, H3N2, and H3N1. However, most of the recently isolated influenza viruses from pigs have been H1N1 viruses. The H1N1 swine flu viruses are antigenically very different from human influenza A H1N1 viruses and, therefore, vaccines for human seasonal flu would not provide protection from H1N1 swine flu viruses.

Since this is therefore a novel virus for human immune systems, we don’t have much natural immunity, thus allowing the virus to spread quickly. This is why there is worldwide concern over the possibility of this becoming a pandemic (A pandemic (from Greek pan all + demos people) is an epidemic of infectious disease that spreads through populations across a large region; for instance a continent, or even worldwide.( http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Pandemic).

Written by Dr. Ariana Staruch, ND, a naturopathic doctor in Portland, Oregon, and ACHS faculty member.

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