New flu finds Japan feeling unprepared

by Natsuko Fukue

The swine-avian-human flu outbreak in Mexico has killed more than 100 people and sparked a worldwide panic. Around 20 people in the United States, others in Canada, Europe, New Zealand and Israel are also suspected of being infected with the new strain.

Although no infections have been reported in Japan, according to the Health, Labor and Welfare Ministry, there is concern that the country is unprepared, having instead braced for a new type of seasonal influenza and bird flu. Following are basic questions and answers about swine flu:

What is swine flu?

According to the World Health Organization, swine flu is an acute respiratory disease caused by a strain of the influenza virus A. Many countries regularly vaccinate pigs, which suffer outbreaks throughout the year. Normally, only pigs are infected by the virus; however, humans have been infected in some countries before, including the United States and Spain.

How do people become infected?

The influenza can be passed to people by direct contact with infected pigs. Human-to-human transmission cases are limited to close contact and closed groups of people, according to the WHO.

The health ministry reported that, just as with seasonal influenza, direct contact with infected people, including exposure to their airborne cough or sneeze discharges, can lead to infection.

Can people get infected by eating pork and pork products?

According to the WHO, swine flu is not transmitted to humans through eating pork that is properly handled and well-cooked, or other processed food derived from pigs. The virus is killed by a cooking temperature of 70 degrees.

What are the human symptoms of swine flu?

As with other types of flu, symptoms can include fever, fatigue, loss of appetite, diarrhea, nausea and respiratory tract inflammation. According to the WHO, symptoms can vary widely and in some cases lead to pneumonia resulting in death.

Is there a vaccine to protect people from swine flu?

There are no known vaccines to prevent infection. According to the WHO, it is not known if the current seasonal human vaccines can provide protection.

What drugs are recommended for treatment?

According to the WHO, Tamiflu and Zanamivir are recommended for treatment in the United States and Mexico. But no particular antiviral drugs are recommended to prevent infection.

What protective steps should be taken?

The health ministry advises people who travel to Mexico to wear a mask to prevent infection through coughs and sneezes. They should also wash their hands often and gargle, and consult a local doctor when flu symptoms such as a fever or cough occur.

Has travel to Mexico been banned?

The Foreign Ministry has not banned trips to Mexico or issued travel warnings to people planning to visit the country. However, the ministry urges people to consider putting off going until the epidemic has abated.