Swine flu is caused by a variant strain of the influenza virus. In most cases, the manifestation of the disease is similar to a typical flu infection. Management is aimed at relieving the symptoms of the disease. However, some patients may need medications called antivirals - drugs that fight against viruses that invade and multiply within the body.
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Home management of swine flu
The primary treatment of swine flu is home management. Patients need to rest, drink plenty of clear fluids and use home remedies such as cough syrups or vapor rubs and inhalations.
For fever and body ache paracetamol (Acetaminophen/Tylenol) or ibuprofen may be taken. Aspirin is not to be given to children with viral infections as this may lead to a life-threatening condition with liver failure and other complications called Rye’s Syndrome.
It is also important for those infected to isolate from children, the elderly, pregnant women and other high-risk people.
Two antiviral drugs are already in use against another type of influenza - bird flu. These are called Oseltamivir (Tamiflu) and Zanamivir (Relenza). They belong to a class of drugs called neuraminidase inhibitors and block the action of a protein called neuraminidase.
This neuraminidase is essential for the virus to be able to multiply inside the body. Lack of this protein leads to the stoppage of this viral multiplication and arrests the disease.
In the United States, two more drugs are available for use against flu. These are Amantadine and Rimantadine.
Antivirals need to be taken as soon as the infection begins to take effect. In many cases, the course of the disease is similar with or without medication, but antiviral medication is needed in the high-risk population to reduce the risk of serious complications and death.
Those with difficulty breathing, severe dehydration or bluish discoloration (cyanosis) need to be taken to the Emergency Department urgently.
The World Health Organization recommends that these patients need to be given adequate supportive care to assist breathing and a course of oseltamivir should be started as soon as possible. Zanamavir is an alternative to oseltamivir.
For patients with severe or rapidly deteriorating disease, therapy should be provided even if started later. This recommendation applies to all patient groups such as pregnant women, and all ages, even young children and infants.
Prevention of swine flu
Good hygiene is essential to reduce the risk of the spread of the viral infection. These include:
- Good hand-washing practices
- Covering mouth and nose when coughing or sneezing
- Adequate and proper disposal of used tissues with infected secretions
- Adequate cleaning of hard surfaces with a standard cleaning fluid
- Avoidance of close contact with people with viral infections
- Wearing a face mask. This helps prevent infection of the exposed persons as well as the health professionals who work closely with someone with viral infections like swine flu.
Swine flu vaccine
A swine flu vaccine is available for the prevention of the infection. Special high-risk populations need to be covered fully to prevent possible complications.
H1N1 2009 that caused swine flu is now a part of the seasonal flu vaccination. It is given to all pregnant women, elderly and high-risk people.
Those who have been exposed to cases of swine flu for example, those traveling to a place with cases of swine flu, household contacts, school children, high-risk groups, health care professionals etc. are also at risk.
Some of these people need to be prescribed antiviral medications to prevent the infection. This includes those who are at high risk of complications like pregnant women, the elderly or those with suppressed immunity and long-term diseases.