What is this "bug" that will delay our kids from coming home. The Influenza A (H1N1) virus belongs to a group called the orthomyxoviruses. "Myxo" refers to viruses that infect the mucus membranes. The orthomyxoviruses comprise of 3 types - Influenza A, B and C. While Influenza B and C viruses mainly infect man, Influenza A can infect both man and animals. This allows Influenza A viruses to cause pandemics - a situation where a disease crosses national bounderies - like what is happening now.
The viruses are spherical and covered by an envelope from where spikes or surface proteins -haemagglutinins (H) and neuraminidase (N) - project out. Influenza viruses are able to change their antigens and result in different serotypes - H1N1 caused the Spanish Influenza (1918), H2N2 the Asian Influenza (1957) and H3N2 the Hong Kong Influenza (1968).
- Pictures taken from the Internet
Spread? Influenza A (H1N1) is not transmitted via food. Virus is spread through aerosols from sneezing and coughing or by contact with the virus and then touching the nose or mouth.
Prevention? By avoiding crowded places and good hygiene practice. The virus is rapidly "killed" by detergents and soaps, thus frequent hand washing will control the spread.
Vaccine? At the moment there is NO vaccine for the nfluenza A (H1N1) virus. The only vaccines available offer no protection against the current "bug" as they will only protect against the human seasonal influenza viruses.
Research at the CDC (Center for Disease Control and Prevention, US) report that the current Influenza A (H1N1) virus is a genetic recombination of 4 different influenza viruses:
- Human influenza gene segments
- Swine influenza from North America
- Swine influenza from Euroasia
- Avian gene segments from North America
A new strain with no immunity in humans, this is why the fatality rate is much higher compared with other flu outbreaks. The good news is that the current fatality rate of less than 1% shows that the virus is not as powerful as intiallly predicted. There are 5,400 Malaysians studying in the US, I hope they will come home safely.