pigletSwine flu is an influenza (or flu) virus that commonly affects pigs. As with many of the flu viruses, it can sometimes jump from pigs to humans, and from humans to pigs, where there are large numbers of pigs being housed together, and humans working in close proximity to them, such as factory farming operations.

The current swine flu strain which has been identified as the H1N1 virus by Health Canada and the CDC (Centers for Disease Control and Prevention) originated in Mexico where it has killed 159 people and sickened up to 2500. The virus has already mutated and can now jump from people to people, without any contact with pigs.

According to Health Canada: “Human swine influenza is a respiratory illness that causes symptoms similar to those of the regular human seasonal flu. The symptoms include fever, fatigue, lack of appetite, coughing and sore throat. Some people with human swine influenza have also reported vomiting and diarrhoea.”

The current virus is new to people, so there will be no natural immunity for this particular flu built up in people. The flu is transmitted from person to person when the infected individual sneezes or coughs into the air. Virus particles are expelled into the air, and land on surfaces or people, so it is important to take the following steps to help protect your self:

· Wash hands thoroughly with soap and warm water, or use hand sanitizer

· Cough and sneeze in your arm or sleeve

· Get your annual flu shot

· Stay home if sick, and see your doctor if you experience any flu-like symptoms

101 Canadians have fallen ill after returning from holidays in Mexico, twenty nine from BC, sixteen in Ontario, thirty three in Nova Scotia, one case in each of Manitoba and New Brunswick, three in Quebec and eighteen in Alberta. The CDC has confirmed that 286 people from thirty six states have contracted the virus. Canadian and Americans infected with the virus appear to suffer from milder symptoms.

World wide, Germany has now confirmed its second case, Austria has confirmed one case, France has two cases, Ireland, Italy, Switzerland, the Netherlands and Denmark each have one case, the United Kingdom has confirmed fifteen and Spain has confirmed forty cases, New Zealand has reported four cases, Israel has confirmed three cases. In Asia, Hong Kong has confirmed one case, as has the Republic of Korea. In Central and South America, Costa Rica and Colombia have confirmed one case each, El Salvador has confirmed two cases.

The World Health Organization has warned that taken together the Mexican and US cases could potentially trigger a global pandemic, and stress that the situation is serious. Currently, they say the world is closer to a flu pandemic than at any point since 1968 - rating the threat at five on a six-point scale.

The Spanish flu pandemic which took place in 1918 remains the most devastating outbreak of modern times. Caused by a form of the H1N1 strain of flu, it is estimated that up to 40% of the world's population were infected, and more than 50 million people died, with young adults particularly badly affected.

In 1957, the Asian flu killed two million people. Caused by a human form of the virus, H2N2, combining with a mutated strain found in wild ducks. The impact of the pandemic was minimized by rapid action by health authorities, who identified the virus, and made vaccine available speedily. The elderly were particularly vulnerable

An outbreak first detected in Hong Kong in 1968 and caused by a strain known as H3N2, killed up to one million people globally, with those over 65 most likely to die.

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[For more than 17 years, Al Hickey was the Chief Executive of the BC SPCA and before that headed up the Alberta and BC Chambers of Commerce, and was the Executive Director of the Boys and Girls Club of Greater Vancouver. He has been The HSC Western Regional Director for over 12 years. He has 4 children and 6 grandchildren. For his lifetime of achievement dedicated to helping people, animals and the environment, we have bestowed upon him our prestigious Heroes for Animals Award, shared by only a handful of people and organizations.

A father with two children, and a houseful of dogs and cats, Michael O'Sullivan has worked across Canada and in over 110 countries during the last 40 years helping people, animals and nature.]

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Update:

Four-year-old could hold key in search for source of swine flu outbreak

Egypt orders slaughter of all pigs

First swine flu death outside Mexico

Of pandemics, pork, and factory farms