Many of are under the mistaken notion that swine flu is a recent mutation in the influenza virus; however, the reality is a bit stranger than you think. Both swine and avian flu have been with us from about the beginning of the influenza virus itself. They are called such for their origins in these animals’s version of influenza which on occasion is spread to a single human being and then fails to spread to other humans from that infected individual. The fluctuations in severity and effect vary by the mutations and immunity that we and the virus go through over time. When the strain first became a problem, scientists dubbed it swine flu for its similarity to the version of flu that spread among pigs. This however was a misnomer as the H1N1 virus is another strain of the flu that travels from human to human quickly.
When H1N1 Began
The first occurrence of H1N1 was near Thanksgiving of 2005 and affected a teen in Wisconsin without passing on to other members of his family or severely affecting the boy, though it did cause some note for the unusual blend of genes. Rather than being either avian or swine flu,H1N1 was found to be a blend of these strains, it shares two genes with swine flu, one from avian flu and another from the human strain. This is what is called a quadruple reassortant virus and is far more easily spread among humans than the previous strains of flu. Four years later H1N1 has come back in force.
How it Began
The Wisconsin teen who first carried H1N1, caught it in the fall of 2005 around the time he had helped a family member butcher some pigs and then spent some time with a chicken in his home. While the new strain puzzled those who noted the strain, little was understood about how it had occurred and it was soon overlooked as a fluke. Some research was done into the spread of human flu to pigs in the following year which stemmed from a human strain first tracked in 1999. Later that year, a strain of H1N1 was found to be affecting several pigs at a county fair in Ohio but had not come to affect their handlers. From there the virus was spotted periodically in both human and pigs but because the symptoms resolved themselves without much effect on the humans who were infected little focus fell on the virus’ potential epidemic qualities as it mutated.
The Unforeseen Epidemic
Since March of 2009 (when the virus first appeared in South America), the world has been watching the spread of this new strain uncertain of just how it will come to affect the population. In those early days, there were many comparisons to the avian flu fears of a few years ago and announcements about the epidemic that would likely hit in the coming flu season.
Now that the epidemic is in full swing we’re beginning to have a better idea of just what the virus can do. There have already been H1N1 deaths as a result of the virus but there have also been many other cases where the virus lasted only a few days and then resolved itself with and without the aid of medicine. Overall it appears to be a waiting game where while some evade the danger through vaccination or a milder form of infection others can and have died. Will this epidemic be as detrimental as past infections? We’ll have to wait and see.