Influenza A, or swine flu, is a respiratory disease of pigs that can also infect humans. The latest strain is an unidentified subtype of the influenza A virus known as H1N1, and is believed to be a mix of pig, bird and human viruses. Officials suspect the outbreak started in Mexico. The virus cannot be contracted from eating or preparing pork products and can best be prevented by avoiding contact with those believed to be sick, in addition to frequent hand-washing. Other precautions include covering your mouth when you cough and staying home if you feel ill.
The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention recommends the use of the antiviral drugs oseltamivir or zanamivir for the treatment and/or prevention of infection with these swine influenza viruses. Drugmakers have been fast-tracking the development of a vaccine to protect against the new strain, which is expected to made available by mid-October. Governments worldwide have already placed orders for millions of doses.
The World Health Organization has raised the pandemic threat awareness level to 6, officially declaring the H1N1 outbreak a pandemic. "The world is better prepared for an influenza pandemic than at any time in history," noted WHO Director-General Dr. Margaret Chan.