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    Volume 8 Issue 69 | May 15, 2009 |

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The High Price of

Nasreen Taher

First it was the mad cow disease. Then, it was bird flu, and now the swine flu and this time it is pigs who are hosting this virus which is also known as H1N1 virus. It is as if the pigs in Orwell's satirical novel Animal Farm have been reincarnated , only this time they are not exploited by humans ---rather humans are being exploited by them. It seems to be a revenge against their old enemy.

The last reported outbreak was on November 5, 1999 in Portugal. But this time in its new outbreak of 2009, it has claimed a huge number of human lives in Mexico, New Zealand, Scotland, New York, Canada and the latest news is that it is spreading fast to Europe and the Middle East and lastly Asia . Health authorities report that Swine Flu has killed as many as 149 people in Mexico and made innumerable member of people sick in other countries.

Swine Flu, SwineFever or Swine Influenza is one of the deadliest virus diseases of pigs in the world. Pig is the only carrier of this virus which is infected via discharges from nose, mouth, urine, faeces, infected semen and is highly contagious. This virus survives in frozen carcasses for long periods of time. It is also known as Hog Cholera or Pig Plague originating from the German word Schweinepest and is a highly contagious disease of pigs and wild boar. It is a new virus which is a mixture of influenza viruses originating from birds, pigs , and humans. It is said that pigs are genetically similar to humans and therefore viruses are often exchanged between these two mammals. The Swine Flu virus affects human through direct contact with the infected animal. The spread of this virus is also enhanced by contacts between pigs, mechanical carriage by humans or equipment, contaminated injection needles, ticks and other biting insects and lice or uncooked waste food or garbage found near the catering areas of international airports or seaports. The virus survives well in the environment and in meat, so spread of this virus can occur via contaminated livestock pens or by feeding on poorly cooked waste food. It can also pass from human to human through coughing, sneezing or touching infected people or surfaces and then touching your mouth or nose. It is not ,however, contracted by eating thoroughly cooked porkmeat.

Swine Flu is also known as African Swine Fever. Among other similar diseases , Swine Vesicular Disease and Foot and Mouth Disease are equally dangerous because of their highly infectious nature, variety of means of spreading, high morbidity, high mortality rate and the lack of specific treatment or vaccine.

Doctors say that in Swine Flu, victims are infectious. This can transmit the disease, even before they get fever or any other visible symptoms. The infectious period is also relatively long,from a day before symptoms appear until at least a week later. Whereas, in SARS (Severe Acute Respiratory Syndrome) a person becomes infectious a few days after the onset of fever. This was also an epidemic that broke out in Singapore in 2003, which is also a flu like disease.

What are the symptoms of someone having Swine Flu?
The symptoms are similar to those of the normal influenza e.g. a high temperature (38.5degrees Celcius or higher) , muscle aches, tiredness or fatigue, loss of appetite and coughing; some patients may also have nausea, vomiting and diarrhoea. Late treatment may develop into fatal pneumonia . The mortality rate is from 1%--4% if this virus is spread. However, the incubation period is only a day or two. People between the ages of 20 and 45 are getting ill so far which may be some kind of overreaction involved on the part of the immune system, which is fully developed in this age category. In animals, the symptom is similar to flu viruses, causing a respiratory disease in the infected animals.

Diseases have spread before, so why are more humans are affected and killed by it this year?
According to World Health Organization(WHO) it is a strain of virus that has not been encountered before, therefore humans are unlikely to have built up a resistance to it.

Is there any treatment of this disease yet?
There is no effective treatment for Swine Flu as of yet. During outbreaks it is vital to slaughter infected herds rapidly and dispose of carcases and liter. Pens and equipment must be thoroughly cleaned and disinfected before re-stocking. Animal should be controlled in designated zone which may be called the 'Infected Zone.'

Border and importation controls need to take into account that live pigs, semen, embryos and products of pig origin all pose a risk of introducing Swine Flu and should therefore take necessary steps to prevent such contamination into humans and turn it into an epidemic.

How can an epidemic be prevented ?
It is always safe to cover your mouth with a mask when going outside or on open spaces, specially if you have asthma or other respiratory threats.

Wash hands often with soap, water or disinfectant.

Avoid people who have flu , cold or sneezing allergy ---- for the time being.

Take rest if you are not feeling your 100% or if any of the above mentioned symptoms occur in your health.

Some days back, I was listening to a song which if translated would be : 'The dawn is reluctant to visit my abode, yet only if a little ray of light could I see peeping in from somewhere in the darkness of my cell where I am imprisoned for no sin of mine ' which made me feel that speaks for our present condition of this world. We are suffocated in the darkness of mysterious challenges that we have to confront and encounter every single day of our lives. Fighting to survive amidst global warming or our own domestic and political issues are not enough , we have confronted a new rival in the name of Swine flu . This disease is not only a threat to animals, it is a wake up call for human beings to pay the price of globalization, it is the price we have to pay for surviving in an environment which is being changed by our own follies .

Los Angeles Times, Singapore Straits Times, Wikipedia.

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