H1N1 influenza, popularly known as swine flu, is a respiratory infection caused by an influenza virus first documented in spring 2009—which has since been declared by the World Health Organization as a worldwide pandemic.
The words “swine flu” and “H1N1” buzz through daily conversation, media outlets, social media and web forums. With all the hype about this disease, there is sure to be a twisted sense of fact and fiction. This sense of misinformation is causing people worldwide to avoid public places, eating pork and even force individuals to wear face masks. Where does the truth about this disease really lie? Well – we will tell you with carefully drawn data from the World Health Organization (http://www.who.int/csr/disease/swineflu/en/index.html) National Pork Producers Council (NPPC), Center for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), U.S. Department of Health and Human Services, Mayo Clinic and other credible medial sources.
1) “You can get infected with H1N1 virus from eating pork.”
FICTION: Go ahead and nosh on bacon… According to the National Pork Producers Council H1N1 is a repertory illness, not a food-borne illness (http://www.factsaboutpork.com/Default.aspx). The CDC also has confirmed that H1N1 virus is not spread by food, rather by the transmission from person to person in respiratory droplets of coughs and sneezes (http://www.cdc.gov/h1n1flu/). Eating properly handled and cooked pork products is safe – so go ahead and dig in, omnivores.
2) “You can get infected with H1N1 through direct contact with pigs.”
FACT: The CDC states that the H1N1 strain can be linked from pigs to humans. These cases primarily occur in persons with direct exposure to pigs, like children at a petting zoo or farmers in the swine industry (http://www.cdc.gov/flu/swineflu/key_facts.htm). Claims have been made that the Minnesota State Fair outbreak of 4H children were linked to contact with pigs. Most people don’t participate in hog wrestling on a daily basis, so this is not something to be terribly concerned about.
3) “This is the first swine flu pandemic that has hit the United States.”
FICTION: Though the H1N1 strain is a fairly new mutation of the influenza virus, there have been other similar swine flu outbreaks documented in history. In 1988, multiple human infections of swine flu were documented in a small Wisconsin community (http://www.cdc.gov/flu/swineflu/key_facts.htm). There was also a spate of swine flu in 1976 in Fort Dix, New Jersey, where more than 200 people perished from a hybrid form of the current H1N1 influenza strain. (http://www.cdc.gov/ncidod/EID/vol12no01/05-0965.htm)
4) “If I contract the swine flu I will die.“
FICTION: Contracting the swine flu is not a death wish. Though the media hypes this disease to be deadly—swine flu can be mild to severe. While the vast majority of people who have contracted H1N1 flu have recovered without needing medical treatment, hospitalizations and deaths have occurred with this disease. So far, the World Health Organization has reported 4,500 deaths from H1N1 influenza (http://www.who.int/csr/don/2009_10_09/en/index.html)... (Just 1.2 percent of all reported cases).
5) “Children and elderly are more at risk for contracting the swine flu.”
FACT: It is true that children under the age of five and seniors over age 65 are at greater risk for seasonal flu (http://www.medicinenet.com/script/main/art.asp?articlekey=99845), as are pregnant women and people with pre-existing conditions including cancer, blood disorders, chronic lung disease, diabetes and immunodeficiency http://www.cdc.gov/h1n1flu/highrisk.htm?s_cid=ccu102309_PeopleRisk_e). So why are children and the elderly more at risk, you ask? Well, by and large these populations have weaker immune systems, causing the severity of the disease to be far worse than normal. This is not to say that people at every stage of their life should be vigilant about protecting themselves from the disease, as anyone exposed to the virus may be at risk.
6) “It costs too much money to get an H1N1 vaccine.”
FICTION: Thanks to the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services the H1N1 vaccine is as free as air. The federal government has purchased mass quantities of the vaccine and they are distributing it nationwide. Public vaccination clinics will offer vaccine for free, however some private healthcare providers may charge a small fee to administer the vaccine, but cost is typically minimal. (http://www.flu.gov/myths/index.html)
7) “H1N1 and seasonal influenza exhibit the same symptoms.”
FACT: Both H1N1 and seasonal influenza are market my common symptoms. They include: fever (above 100°F), cough, sore throat, stuffy nose and—in some cases—diarrhea and vomiting (http://www.mayoclinic.com/health/swine-flu/DS01144/DSECTION=symptoms). Medical professionals, however, can discern between the diseases though two tests: Real-Time RT PCR and a Viral Culture (according to the Minnesota Department of Health) (http://www.health.state.mn.us/divs/idepc/diseases/flu/hcp/case.html).
8) “I should wear a mask if I am going out in public to deter getting the swine flu.”
FICTION: Mask wearing in public is not necessary unless individuals are actually infected with H1N1(http://news.nurse.com/article/20090501/ALL02/305010003/-1/section). This virus is spread though contaminated droplets from the nose and mouth of a sick person—not through airborne particles. Individuals can deter the spread of the swine flu by: frequent hand washing, covering coughs and having ill persons stay home. (http://www.medicinenet.com/swine_flu/page4.htm#mask)
9) “You can get flu from drinking water or swimming pools.”
FICTION: Keep on swimming…and drinking. Drinking treated tap water and swimming in chlorinated swimming pool water does not put you at risk for flu. The U.S. Department of Health and Human Services has not reported any cases of the swine flu from drinking water or from swimming in a pool. (http://www.flu.gov/myths/index.html)
10) “If I get the regular flu shot each year, I don’t need to get the swine flu shot too.”
FICTION: According to the CDC, getting a seasonal flu shot may reduce the chances of contracting H1N1…however, don’t count on it. Fox News reports that “The regular flu shot was formulated before we knew about H1N1,” therefore medical professionals did not formulate the shot to combat the H1N1 strain specifically. (http://www.foxnews.com/story/0,2933,537301,00.html?test=latestnews)