A new version of the swine flu has been identified in two children in the United States — the first known human cases of this particular strain.1 The infected children were from Indiana and Pennsylvania and had never been in contact with each other. Both of them experienced common flu symptoms and have since recovered without incident.
This H3N2 swine flu is a variant that has added a gene from the 2009 version of H1N1. Transmission between humans appears to be likely since the child in Indiana was not directly exposed to any pigs but did come into contact with an adult who had been around pigs. Both of the children’s infections occurred in August.
So far, there are no reports of other cases of this variant showing up in humans. But even if person-to-person transmission has been limited, it is certainly possible to catch any strain of swine flu directly from pigs, and numerous cases of that have been recorded by the Centers for Disease Control over the past few years.
What’s disturbing about this new development is that it marks the first time that the 2009 swine flu virus, still circulating in people, has recombined with an older swine flu virus. This “new” strain is essentially the old H3N2 swine flu virus but with a newly integrated single structural gene from the 2009 H1N1 bug. Although the cases reported so far don’t seem to show that this variation is any more dangerous than previous forms, mutations such as these run the risk of turning any virus into something we are powerless to treat. As a side note, the older virus may be called “swine flu,” but pigs actually caught it from humans in the 1990’s. And in fact, this highlights the concern, flu viruses move back and forth between pigs and humans quite easily, continually mutating. It’s only a matter of time before one of these mutations fulfills all of the requirements needed for a deadly pandemic. And it gets worse.
Incidentally, there are signs that the avian flu virus may also have begun mutating in just such a way. The United Nations has reported that a variant strain of the H5N1 avian flu virus appears to be spreading in Asia in humans. This strain — now present in Vietnam and China — seems to be resistant to the vaccines presently available, which would make it potentially life-threatening to a greater segment of the population than other forms of influenza that do respond to antivirals.2 But so far shows no signs of spreading easily among people and remains localized in rural areas in Asia…at the moment.
The new strain of swine flu virus appears to be less of a threat to healthy adults than the avian flu, at least among those who have built up some immunity to various flu viruses from exposure over the years. It is much more likely to sicken young children who have not yet developed much flu immunity. Both of the children infected with the new strain were under 5 years old. And — in yet more evidence that flu shots might not be worth the risks they present — both kids had previously received their “medically recommended” flu shots.
The primary danger of swine flu or avian flu is the possibility that it could continue to evolve into a more virulent form, which already happened once before in 1918 with deadly consequences. Both swine and avian flu — which actually share some DNA — seem to have the ability to turn a person’s immune system against itself so that it literally attacks the victim’s lungs in what is known as a cytokine storm. In a cytokine storm, the stronger your immune system, the more deadly the storm. That’s why the 1918 flu killed more healthy adults than children or the elderly. Fortunately, current versions of the swine flu, which spread more easily among humans, are less virulent than bird flu — less likely to initiate a cytokine storm.
To protect yourself, you need to not only take immune enhancing supplements, but also keep the viral load low if infected, to prevent your immune system from attacking you. In fact, with colds and flus of any strain, it’s always a good idea to use pathogen destroyers to take the viral load down. If nothing else, killing large numbers of the virus with an antipathogen just makes things that much easier for your immune system. With milder versions of seasonal flu, it will hold your symptoms in check and shorten the duration of the illness. If taken soon enough, during the incubation phase, at the first sign of a scratchy throat or an off feeling, a healthy dose of natural antipathogens can even nip the flu in the bud so that you never actually come down with it. And if taken later in the course of the illness, especially when it comes to mutated versions of swine and avian flu, it may actually save your life.
1 DeNoon, Daniel J. “New Swin Flu in 2 U.S. Kids.” WebMD. 2 September 2011. WebMD, LLC. 19 September 2011. <http://www.webmd.com/cold-and-flu/news/20110902/new-swine-flu-in-2-us-kids>.
2 Balbin, Manny; dela Cruz, Eunice; and Claveria, Jiezl. “Mutant Bird Flu Virus Spreading.” Journal Online. 31 August 2011.Accessed 19 September 2011. <http://www.journal.com.ph/index.php/news/top-stories/12400-mutant-bird-flu-virus-spreading>.