Photo via Boston Globe
Swine flu is taking over headlines everywhere--because it's already been confirmed on at least three continents, and there are few things as terrifying as the prospect of a global pandemic. There are so many unanswered questions that it's difficult to even approach the issue: Where did it come from (hint: likely from unseemly mass animal feeding operations)? How worried should we be? Is it going to be a major, enduring global health issue? These are the questions on the top of everyone's mind (including mine). So here's a quick rundown on what you need to know about swine flu, and what you can do to protect yourself from it.Swine Flu's Present Status
As of right now, the swine flu—believed to have arisen from a pig virus transferred to humans--is hitting Mexico hardest by far: with 149 deaths suspected from the disease, and as many as thousands believed to be infected, the country can be considered the current epicenter of the disease.
There are as many as 40 cases reported in the US, in New York City, Southern California, and Kansas. But even though Europe has issued a warning on US travel, each of those cases has been mild, with only one leading to hospitalization. No deaths have been reported in the US so far. Obama has said that the disease shouldn't be a cause for panic for US residents.
Cases of swine flu have been reported in Canada, Spain, and New Zealand as well.
Swine Flu Origins
The root of swine flu has yet to be confirmed, but theories abound. The Wall Street Journal has this to say: the swine flu that has
sickened hundreds more is still a mystery contagion. But this much is known: The virus is unusually made up of genetic material from avian, pig and human viruses; it can transmit from person to person; and in many people, it only triggers mild symptoms seen in garden-variety influenza.
But where did it originate? David Kirby has some ideas, and they involve "confined animal feeding operations", or CAFOs. There are hundreds of such operations with pigs in Mexico. The more animals get clustered together, and the more time they spend in that state, the more viruses will spread between them—and the thousands of humans that work at the CAFOs. Free range proponents take note--this could've been prevented with more sanitary animal living conditions.
Again, suggestions of the disease's origins remain theoretical, but somehow this particular strain emerged when American swine flu virus was mingled with a Eurasian swine flu strain—both were found in the disease's genetic code, along with avian flu genes. Here's a more in-depth look at a number of theories on how this might have come to be.
How You Can Fight Swine Flu?
The same way you protect yourself from the common cold, really. The Huffington Post's Ben Sherman points this out about the capacity for a flu to spread:
A single sneeze propels 100,000 droplets into the air at around 90 mph, landing on door knobs, ATM keypads, elevator buttons, escalator railings, and grocery cart handles. In a subway station at rush hour, according to British researchers, as many as 10 percent of all commuters can come in contact with the spray and residue from just one sneeze.
So what to do? Take care; use caution. He offers these three simple steps to help prevent the disease:
1. Wash Your Hands Often – Sanitize, sanitize. It's the single best defense against the virus.
2. Be Anti-Social – At least for the moment. Keep yourself out of highly populated areas, and keep your distance from large social gatherings.
3. Recognize the Symptoms – Better safe than sorry. The symptoms, which are very similar to that of the common cold, are as follows: "Fever, body aches, sore throat, cough, runny nose, vomiting, diarrhea, and lethargy."
One last thing: this disease is entirely treatable, and is as, Sherman says "absolutely survivable." So Obama's right—it's no time to panic. But it's certainly time to be aware.
More on Global Disease:
Tick-Borne Diseases May Spread More Easily with Global Warming
Reports Indicate Strange, Contagious Disease Striking School Photocopy Machines, Causing Global Warming
Curb the Ozone Pollution Problem and Prevent Lung Disease