Friday, July 03, 2009

What is the link between the Swine Flu (H1N1) and seizures?

What is the swine flu?

The swine influenza A (H1N1) virus that has infected humans in the U.S. and Mexico is a novel influenza A virus that has not previously been identified in North America. This virus is resistant to the antiviral medications amantadine (Symmetrel) and rimantadine (Flumadine), but is sensitive to oseltamivir (Tamiflu) and zanamivir (Relenza). Investigations of these cases suggest that on-going human-to-human swine influenza A (H1N1) virus is occurring.

What are the symptoms of swine flu?

Although uncomplicated influenza-like illness (fever, cough or sore throat) has been reported in many cases, mild respiratory illness (nasal congestion, rhinorrhea) without fever and occasional severe disease also has been reported. Other symptoms reported with swine influenza A virus infection include vomiting, diarrhea, myalgia, headache, chills, fatigue, and dyspnea. Conjunctivitis is rare, but has been reported. Severe disease (pneumonia, respiratory failure) and fatal outcomes have been reported with swine influenza A virus infection. The potential for exacerbation of underlying chronic medical conditions or invasive bacterial infection with swine influenza A virus infection should be considered.

What are the CDC recommendations for infectious swine flu?

For clinical care or collection of respiratory specimens from a symptomatic individual (acute respiratory symptoms with or without fever) who is a confirmed case, or a suspected case (ill close contact of a confirmed case) of swine influenza A (H1N1) virus infection:

Infectious Period

Persons with swine influenza A (H1N1) virus infection should be considered potentially contagious for up to 7 days following illness onset. Persons who continue to be ill longer than 7 days after illness onset should be considered potentially contagious until symptoms have resolved. Children, especially younger children, might potentially be contagious for longer periods. The duration of infectiousness might vary by swine influenza A (H1N1) virus strain. Non-hospitalized ill persons who are a confirmed or suspected case of swine influenza A (H1N1) virus infection are recommended to stay at home (voluntary isolation) for at least the first 7 days after illness onset except to seek medical care.

Case definitions

A confirmed case of swine influenza A (H1N1) virus infection is defined as a person with an acute respiratory illness with laboratory confirmed swine influenza A (H1N1) virus infection at CDC by one or more of the following tests:

• real-time RT-PCR

• viral culture

• four-fold rise in swine influenza A (H1N1) virus-specific neutralizing antibodies

A suspected case of swine influenza A (H1N1) virus infection is defined as a person with acute febrile respiratory illness with onset within 7 days of close contact with a person who is a confirmed case of swine influenza A (H1N1) virus infection. Close contact is defined as: within about 6 feet of an ill person who is a confirmed or suspected case of swine influenza A (H1N1) virus infection.
Acute respiratory illness is defined as recent onset of at least two of the following: rhinorrhea or nasal congestion, sore throat, cough (with or without fever or feverishness)

Recommendations for public health personnel

For interviews of healthy individuals (i.e. without a current respiratory illness), including close contacts of cases of confirmed swine influenza virus infection, no personal protective equipment or antiviral chemoprophylaxis is needed. See section on antiviral chemoprophylaxis for further guidance.

For interviews of an ill, suspected or confirmed swine influenza A virus case, the following is recommended:

• Keep a distance of at least 6 feet from the ill person; or

• Personal protective equipment: fit-tested N95 respirator [if unavailable, wear a medical (surgical mask)].

For collecting respiratory specimens from an ill, confirmed or suspected swine influenza A virus case, the following is recommended:

• Personal protective equipment: fit-tested disposable N95 respirator [if unavailable, wear a medical (surgical mask)], disposable gloves, gown, and goggles.

• When completed, place all PPE in a biohazard bag for appropriate disposal.

• Wash hands thoroughly with soap and water or alcohol-based hand gel.

How can the swine flu infection be controlled?

Recommended Infection Control for a non-hospitalized patient (ER, clinic or home visit):

1. Separation from others in single room if available until asymptomatic. If the ill person needs to move to another part of the house, they should wear a mask. The ill person should be encouraged to wash hand frequently and follow respiratory hygiene practices. Cups and other utensils used by the ill person should be thoroughly washed with soap and water before use by other persons.

What is the treatment for swine flu?

Suspected Cases

Empiric antiviral treatment is recommended for any ill person suspected to have swine influenza A (H1N1) virus infection. Antiviral treatment with either zanamivir alone or with a combination of oseltamivir and either amantadine or rimantadine should be initiated as soon as possible after the onset of symptoms. Recommended duration of treatment is five days. Recommendations for use of antivirals may change as data on antiviral susceptibilities become available. Antiviral doses and schedules recommended for treatment of swine influenza A (H1N1) virus infection are the same as those recommended for seasonal influenza:

Confirmed Cases

For antiviral treatment of a confirmed case of swine influenza A (H1N1) virus infection, either oseltamivir (Tamiflu) or zanamivir (Relenza) may be administered. Recommended duration of treatment is five days. These same antivirals should be considered for treatment of cases that test positive for influenza A but test negative for seasonal influenza viruses H3 and H1 by PCR.

Pregnant Women

Oseltamivir, zanamivir, amantadine, and rimantadine are all “Pregnancy Category C” medications, indicating that no clinical studies have been conducted to assess the safety of these medications for pregnant women. Only two cases of amantadine use for severe influenza illness during the third trimester have been reported. However, both amantadine and rimantadine have been demonstrated in animal studies to be teratogenic and embryotoxic when administered at substantially high doses.

Because of the unknown effects of influenza antiviral drugs on pregnant women and their fetuses, these four drugs should be used during pregnancy only if the potential benefit justifies the potential risk to the embryo or fetus; the manufacturers’ package inserts should be consulted. However, no adverse effects have been reported among women who received oseltamivir or zanamivir during pregnancy or among infants born to such women.

Antiviral Chemoprophylaxis

For antiviral chemoprophylaxis of swine influenza A (H1N1) virus infection, either oseltamivir or zanamivir are recommended. Duration of antiviral chemoprophylaxis is 7 days after the last known exposure to an ill confirmed case of swine influenza A (H1N1) virus infection. Antiviral dosing and schedules recommended for chemoprophylaxis of swine influenza A (H1N1) virus infection are the same as those recommended for seasonal influenza:

Antiviral chemoprophylaxis (pre-exposure or post-exposure) with either oseltamivir or zanamivir is recommended for the following individuals:

1. Household close contacts who are at high-risk for complications of influenza (persons with certain chronic medical conditions, elderly) of a confirmed or suspected case.

2. School children who are at high-risk for complications of influenza (persons with certain chronic medical conditions) who had close contact (face-to-face) with a confirmed or suspected case.

3. Health care workers or public health workers who had unprotected close contact with an ill confirmed case of swine influenza A (H1N1) virus infection during the case’s infectious period.

Antiviral chemoprophylaxis (pre-exposure or post-exposure) with either oseltamivir or zanamivir can be considered for the following:

• Any health care worker who is at high-risk for complications of influenza (persons with certain chronic medical conditions, elderly) who is working in an area with confirmed swine influenza A (H1N1) cases, and who is caring for patients with any acute febrile respiratory illness.

• Non-high risk persons who are travelers to Mexico, first responders, or border workers who are working in areas with confirmed cases of swine influenza A (H1N1) virus infection.

Will a face mask protect me from getting the swine flu, and are there differences in face masks?
Information on the effectiveness of facemasks and respirators for the control of influenza in community settings is extremely limited. Thus, it is difficult to assess their potential effectiveness in controlling swine influenza A (H1N1) virus transmission in these settings. In the absence of clear scientific data, the interim recommendations below have been developed on the basis of public health judgment and the historical use of facemasks and respirators in other settings.

In areas with confirmed human cases of swine influenza A (H1N1) virus infection, the risk for infection can be reduced through a combination of actions. No single action will provide complete protection, but an approach combining the following steps can help decrease the likelihood of transmission. These actions include frequent handwashing, covering coughs, and having ill persons stay home, except to seek medical care, and minimize contact with others in the household. Additional measures that can limit transmission of a new influenza strain include voluntary home quarantine of members of households with confirmed or probable swine influenza cases, reduction of unnecessary social contacts, and avoidance whenever possible of crowded settings.

When it is absolutely necessary to enter a crowded setting or to have close contact3 with persons who might be ill, the time spent in that setting should be as short as possible. If used correctly, facemasks and respirators may help reduce the risk of getting influenza, but they should be used along with other preventive measures, such as avoiding close contact and maintaining good hand hygiene. A respirator that fits snugly on your face can filter out small particles that can be inhaled around the edges of a facemask, but compared with a facemask it is harder to breathe through a respirator for long periods of time.

When crowded settings or close contact with others cannot be avoided, the use of facemasks or respirators in areas where transmission of swine influenza A (H1N1) virus has been confirmed should be considered as follows:

1. Whenever possible, rather than relying on the use of facemasks or respirators, close contact with people who might be ill and being in crowded settings should be avoided.

2. Facemasks should be considered for use by individuals who enter crowded settings, both to protect their nose and mouth from other people’s coughs and to reduce the wearers’ likelihood of coughing on others; the time spent in crowded settings should be as short as possible.

3. Respirators should be considered for use by individuals for whom close contact with an infectious person is unavoidable. This can include selected individuals who must care for a sick person (e.g., family member with a respiratory infection) at home.

These interim recommendations will be revised as new information about the use of facemasks and respirators in the current setting becomes available.

What are the symptoms of swine (H1N1) flu?

Symptoms of swine flu are similar to most influenza infections: fever (100F or greater), cough, nasal secretions, fatigue, and headache, with fatigue being reported in most infected individuals. Some patients also get nausea, vomiting, and diarrhea. In Mexico, many of the patients are young adults, which made some investigators speculate that a strong immune response may cause some collateral tissue damage. Some patients develop severe respiratory symptoms and need respiratory support (such as a ventilator to breathe for the patient).

Patients can get pneumonia (bacterial secondary infection) if the viral infection persists, and some can develop seizures. Death often occurs from secondary bacterial infection of the lungs; appropriate antibiotics need to be used in these patients. The usual mortality (death) rate for typical influenza A is about 0.1%, while the 1918 “Spanish flu” epidemic had an estimated mortality rate ranging from 2%-20%.

Swine flu in Mexico (as of April 2009) has had about 160 deaths and about 2,500 confirmed cases, which would correspond to a mortality rate of about 6%, but it is far too early to be sure this is the true mortality rate because the data is still being collected and there are new infections being reported in Mexico and, as of April 2009, in least in five other countries (U.S., Canada, Scotland, New Zealand, and Spain).

How is swine flu (H1N1) diagnosed?

Swine flu is presumptively diagnosed clinically by the patient’s history of association with people known to have the disease and their symptoms listed above. Usually, a quick test (for example, nasopharyngeal swab sample) is done to see if the patient is infected with influenza A or B virus. Most of the tests can distinguish between A and B types. The test can be negative (no flu infection) or positive for type A and B. If the test is positive for type B, the flu is not likely to be swine flu (H1N1).

If it is positive for type A, the person could have a conventional flu strain or swine flu (H1N1). Swine flu (H1N1) is definitively diagnosed by identifying the particular antigens associated with the virus type. In general, this test is done in a specialized laboratory and is not done by many doctors’ offices or hospital laboratories. However, doctors’ offices are able to send specimens to specialized laboratories if necessary.

What treatment is available for swine (H1N1) flu?

Although the greatest treatment for influenza infections in humans is prevention by vaccination, to date (April 2009), there is no vaccine available for swine (H1N1) flu. Ongoing work by several laboratories is likely to produce a vaccine later this year. Two antiviral agents have been reported to help prevent or reduce the effects of swine flu. They are zanamivir (Relenza) and oseltamivir (Tamiflu), both of which are also used to prevent or reduce influenza A and B symptoms.

These drugs should not be used indiscriminately, because viral resistance to them can and has occurred. Also, they are not recommended if the flu symptoms already have been present for 48 hours or more. Severe infections in some patients may require additional supportive measures such as ventilation support and treatment of other infections like pneumonia that can occur in patients with a severe flu infection. The U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) has suggested in their interim guidelines that pregnant females can be treated with the two antiviral agents.

How can swine (H1N1) flu be prevented?

The best way to prevent swine flu would be the same best way to prevent other influenza infections, and that is vaccination. When a safe vaccine is developed (projected to happen in a few months), people should get vaccinated if the disease is still causing infections. The CDC says that a good way to prevent any flu disease is to avoid exposure to the virus; this is done by frequent hand washing, not touching your hands to your face (especially the nose and mouth), and avoiding any close proximity to or touching any person that may have flu symptoms.

Since the virus can remain viable and infectious for about 48 hours on many surfaces, good hygiene and cleaning with soap and water or alcohol-based hand disinfectants are also recommended. Some physicians say face masks may help prevent getting airborne flu viruses (for example, from a cough or sneeze), but others think the better use for masks would be on those people who have symptoms and sneeze or cough.

The use of Tamiflu or Relenza may help prevent the flu if taken before symptoms develop or reduce symptoms if taken within about 48 hours after symptoms develop. However, taking these drugs is not routinely recommended for prevention because investigators suggest that as occurs with most drugs, flu strains will develop resistance to these medications. Your doctor should be consulted before these drugs are prescribed.

In general, preventive measures to prevent the spread of flu are often undertaken by those people who have symptoms. Symptomatic people should stay at home, avoid crowds, and take off from work or school until the disease improves or medical help is sought. Sneezing, coughing, and nasal secretions need to be kept away from other people; simply using tissues and disposing of them will help others. Quarantining patients is usually not warranted, but such measures depend on the severity of the disease.

What is the prognosis (outlook) for patients that get swine flu (H1N1)?

The following is speculation on the prognosis for swine flu (H1N1) because this disease has only been recently diagnosed and the data in April 2009 is changing daily. This section is based on currently available information. In general, the majority (about 90%-95%) of people that get the disease feel terrible (see symptoms) but recover with no problems, as seen in patients in both Mexico and the U.S. Caution must be taken as the swine flu (H1N1) is still spreading and may become a pandemic. So far, young adults have not done well, and in Mexico, this group currently has the highest mortality rate, but this data could quickly change.

The first traceable case in Mexico, termed “patient zero,” was a 5-year-old child in Veracruz who has completely recovered. Investigators noted that large pig farms were located close to the boy’s home. The first death in the U.S. occurred in a 23-month-old child who was visiting Texas from Mexico but apparently caught the disease in Mexico.

People with depressed immune systems historically have worse outcomes than uncompromised individuals; investigators suspect that as swine flu (H1N1) spreads, the mortality rates may rise and be high in this population. Unfortunately, the problem with the prognosis is still unclear. If the mortality is like the conventional flu that causes mortality rates of about 0.1%, the result would be about 35,000 deaths per year because of the huge number of people that get infected.

If the Mexico swine flu (H1N1) ends up with a mortality rate of about 6% and infects the same number of millions of people as conventional flu viruses, the projected numbers could be as high as 2 million deaths in the U.S. alone. This is a bad prognosis for about 2 million people and their families; these potential deaths are major reasons that health officials are so concerned about the spread of this new virus.

Another confounding problem with the prognosis of swine flu (H1N1) is that the disease is occurring and spreading in high numbers at the usual end of the flu season. Most flu outbreaks happen between November to the following April, with peak activity between late December to March. This outbreak is not following the usual flu pattern. Some scientists think that swine flu (H1N1) will quickly die out in the summer and may not ever return, while others think it may die down but return with many more cases in the fall, and still others speculate it will become a pandemic that will resemble the outcomes similar to the 1918 influenza pandemic.

Some suggest it may resemble the SARS (severe acute respiratory syndrome caused by a coronavirus strain) outbreak in 2002-2003 in which the disease spread to about 10 countries with over 7,000 cases, over 700 deaths, and a 10% mortality rate. Effective isolation of patients was done in this case, and many investigators think the outbreak was stopped due to this measure. Because swine flu (H1N1) is a new virus and does not seem to be following the usual flu disease pattern, any prognosis is speculative.


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