Swine flu for dummies

woman influenza

Once upon a time in a small town, there lived a little boy named Bobby. Bobby was a naughty child, who disliked attending school. He would often come up with crafty ways to avoid getting sent to class. One Friday morning, he decided to play just such a trick to avoid his math test the coming Monday. There was a boy in his class who had the flu. Little Bobby thought he would catch the flu off this boy, and fall just a little bit ill, just enough to warrant staying home from school. To this end, Bobby sat next to the sick boy for the whole day.

Monday morning came, and Bobby felt miserable. His head was splitting, his nose was running something awful, and he had a very high fever. Bobby’s mother bundled him into the car and drove him straight down to the hospital, where the doctors gave them some shocking news. The flu was no ordinary flu. It was swine influenza, a considerably more dangerous illness. To cut a long and rather morbid story short, little Bobby fell terminally ill and died two weeks later.

Hey, it could happen.

On that happy note, let me give you some pointers about swine flu. As a disclaimer, I should probably mention that the scenario narrated above is highly unlikely. Firstly because no one is stupid enough to fall sick on purpose (I hope). Secondly, Swine flu, while being quite a nasty disease, is actually far less deadly than people think. The 2015 epidemic in India has seen over 33000 cases being reported, with around 2000 deaths. That roughly translates to a 6% mortality rate. In this country, crossing the road has a better chance of getting you killed.


Having said all that, here are some basic facts about swine flu:

  • Swine flu is caused by the Influenza A virus, subtypes H1N1, H1N2, H3N1, H2N3, and H3N2. This probably means nothing to most of you.
  • Basic symptoms of swine flu include a high grade fever with chills, cough, severe headache, generalised muscle pain, weakness and malaise.
  • Swine flu is mostly a self-limiting disease which often doesn’t require any significant medical intervention. A few pops of Crocin for your fever and various aches, and you’re good.
  • If symptoms persist beyond a week, however, it’s best to go see a doctor.

Incidentally, we’re in the middle of an epidemic right now (in case you haven’t been keeping up with the news). As it happens every year, swine flu has struck during the cold months (cold elsewhere, I mean, not in Manipal) of December to March, and is still going strong.

At this point it is essential to add some perspective. While the case fatality rate of swine flu is still quite low, it has doubled since the 2009 outbreak. This definitely calls for some prudence. Here are some simple ways you can avoid getting yourself and others sick this season:

  • Stay home if you’re sick. If you do have flu-like symptoms, it’s best to avoid too much human contact. Swine flu is transmissible starting about 24 hours before you develop symptoms and ending about seven days after.
  • Don’t share your snot. Cover your mouth and nose when you sneeze or cough. If you don’t want to get your hands dirty, carry tissues or a handkerchief.
  • WASH YOUR HANDS. You might be thinking “Well, duh!”, but really, how many of us wash our hands every time we sneeze into them, without fail? It’s always a good idea to carry a bottle of hand sanitizer, and an even better idea to use it. You’d be surprised how far this goes towards limiting the spread of disease.
  • Avoid unnecessary contact. Stay away from large crowds as far as possible. A huge group of people is a pathogen party, and its best you stay uninvited.

As of 2014, a vaccine has become available. If you happen to be asthmatic, or have any other serious medical condition, or if you’re pregnant, then you’re at high risk of catching swine flu, and catching it bad. Get your shots. Moving on, it is important to remember that every media sensation comes with misconceptions, and swine flu is no exception. It’s time for some myth-busting:

  • MYTH #1: Avoiding pork helps prevent swine flu.
  • You can NOT (repeat NOT) get swine flu from eating pork, so feel free to pig out.


  • MYTH #2: Swine flu is a deadly disease.
  • Wrong. Most of the people who died from swine flu had either received inadequate treatment, had some pre-existing condition like asthma, which increased the severity of the disease, or a combination of the two. For most people, swine flu is just a flu.


  • MYTH #3: Antibiotics can be used to treat swine flu.
  • Antibiotics are used to treat BACTERIAL infections. Swine flu is caused by a VIRUS. Know the difference. Tamiflu and Relenza are the drugs used.


  • MYTH #4: Face masks are the answer.
  • There is NO proof that face masks help prevent infection. Wearing one out in public therefore makes very little difference, and has the unfortunate side effect of making you look like an idiot. Not to mention taking it off and placing it on tables or other surfaces where it could pick up the virus and infect you when you put it on, thus defeating the purpose completely. Face masks are to be used by people who already have the flu, to stop them from spreading it to others.

I sincerely hope all of you benefit from my… *cough* …sage advice, and stay healthy through the course of this epidemic. Cheers!

Article by: Varun Ram

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A guide to the Open Electives on offer for fourth semester students of B.Tech at Manipal Institute of Technology.