Tuesday, October 25, 2011

Creature Feature: Swine Flu.

It seems like there's always some nasty disease threatening the world thanks to mankind's increased air travel capabilities and our own infestation of the planet. SARS, bird flu, and swine flu were all characterized as "OMG DEADLY" diseases that could whack even those in industrialized nations at any time. These scares are often blown out of proportion. Soon, we will not even be able to get colds without having a news story about it.

CALL THE PRESSES! (From iStockphoto.)

Viruses are great survivors. We could debate about whether viruses are alive or not until the mad cows come home with their non-living prions, but as one of the most primitive life forms, viruses have an amazing capacity for mutation. They swap DNA more often than bacteria, which should be enough to give most people shivers. That the common flu can evolve around vaccines is enough to make Walgreen's offer them every single year. Heaven help us if viruses ever find ways to cross the species barrier.

Oh, wait. Viruses cross species pretty regularly. Rabies is a good example, infecting many mammalian species with the same disease, but swine flu puts it to shame. Strains like H1N1 really gets around when it comes to infecting other species. 

Swine flu (in recent memory, H1N1) is notorious for not only infecting pigs, but also infecting humans and chickens. Pigs, uniquely, can get avian sicknesses. Several pig farms in China and other parts of Asia tested positive for avian flu half of the time. Swine flu crosses not only the species barrier, but also the wall between mammals and birds. Careful of "when pigs fly" statements; you may find yourself doing the impossible once these crazy viruses start giving pigs wings.

Like this, only with better graphics.

So is swine flu really that dangerous? (Wiki says it's worse than smallpox.) 

The short answer is "not anymore." The World Health Organization ("WHO") declared the 2009 pandemic officially over. Even then, most of the people who died from it had some conditions beforehand, such as pregnancy, leukemia, and lymphoma, that compromised their immune systems. Most 'normal' people will treat swine flu exactly like they would the regular flu - by staying in bed, developing antibodies, and watching TV shows online. Most cases of swine flu are very mild. In other words, it still sucks, but was not really worth the hysteria the media put into it.

I lov-ed you, piggy! I lov-ed YOOOUUU!

Swine flu is more harmful to pig farmers than it is to people who do not work with pigs on a regular basis.  This may be common sense, but any animals that are packed together in one place are prone to getting sick from each other. The humans are not the only ones at risk. Some farms have lost over 65 million dollars from swine flu outbreaks; consider that karma.

Swine flu epidemics resurface every time humans think they're on the top of the world and lose their immunity to the virus. Expect it to pop up again. If we ever have a rabies epidemic, however...I TOLD YOU SO. The Chihuahuas did it!

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