Usually, the seasonal winter flu would peak at this time in the year, however, officials are worried by the news of a new and deadlier swine flu strain that is becoming widespread in 48 states. Nationwide, there have been 26.3 million flu-like illnesses, 12.4 million medical visits and 347,000 flu hospitalizations between October and March 2019, according to the Center for Disease Control (CDC).
“I always try to get the flu vaccine before flu season begins because I’ve heard that it’s more helpful that way, but sometimes I forget and then I’ll have to get it later on,” senior Alex Jones said. “Either way I still try to get it because I don’t want to get the flu. I remember when I was younger, I skipped getting the flu vaccine one year and I caught the flu. I felt terrible so anything that will help me not get it, I’ll do.”
Swine influenza is slightly different from the normal virus in that it specifically circulates in pigs and becomes a variant virus when it infects humans. This is typically more dangerous than normal influenza because the vaccines used to combat influenza in humans cannot protect humans from swine influenza.
Variant influenza is spread when pigs are in close environments like barns or livestock exhibits at fairs. The disease can be transmitted via air and facial contact or by touching a surface that was infected. One positive factor about variant flu is that there is a limited spread of the variant virus through human-to-human contact and is more common between animals than humans.
Symptoms of variant flu are similar to those of the seasonal flu including coughing, sneezing, running nose, vomiting and body aches. Variant flu is also transmitted the same way that seasonal flu transmits in people, which is mainly through the coughing or sneezing of people who are infected.
“I usually don’t get the flu, but I also usually get the vaccine so I’m sure that helps,” junior Christopher Wilson said. “Aside from the vaccine I still try to avoid catching (the flu) by washing my hands a lot and not sharing drinks or anything like that.”
In recent years, a new naming convention was used to describe the diseases impacting humans that come from animals, according to the Morbidity and Mortality Weekly Report entitled “Update: Influenza A (H3N2)v Transmission and Guidelines — Five States, 2011.” This report stated that when an influenza virus that normally circulates through swine reaches a human, it will be called a variant virus. For example, if a swine-origin influenza A H3N2 virus is detected in a person, that virus will be called an “H3N2 variant virus.”
This particular swine flu is stronger than most in that it specifically targets children born after 2001 who have no immunity to the virus. Adults seem to have more immunity, perhaps because they might have been previously exposed to similar viruses in their lifetimes.
“I didn’t get the flu so far this season, but I have gotten it in the past and I remember that it took me a while to get better,” said first-year Emily Smith. “Then I would have to spend a long time after that playing catch-up in order to get back on track with school work and other activities.”
Although the regular flu vaccine does not affect the H3N2 variant virus, steps have been taken by the CDC to create a prototype for a new vaccine that can target the swine flu variant. Preliminary clinical studies indicated that it leads to a significant immune response.