The recent virus has left many questions unanswered but most experts agree that pork is still safe to eat.
This, they say, is because the temperature at which pork cooks kills the virus. What’s more, no epidemic has been found among pigs themselves.
In fact the first human cases cropped up in urban areas, not among rural populations exposed to pigs.
This has led many pork producers and other observers to question whether ‘swine flu’ is an appropriate term to use when talking of the current epidemic.
The new fatal viral strain is an H1N1 flu virus of type A, meaning it has the potential to become a pandemic. It is a combination of swine flu strains from North America and Asia as well as bird and human flu strains from North America. It is thought to have originated in or near Mexico.
It is not certain if the virus passes from animal to human but it does travel from human to human at a fast rate.
In 1918, an H1N1 virus that was much the same killed between 40 million and 100 million people worldwide. The pandemic was given the name ‘Spanish Flu’ and, as with the latest bug, young adults were particularly affected.
Combinations of animal and human flu strains are not new but this latest variety has never been recorded before. It is therefore unpredictable and because the symptoms mirror those caused by seasonal flu, it is not easy to track.
Pharmaceutical companies say a commercial vaccine could still be up to four months away. In the meantime Tamiflu and Relenza appear to be effective drugs for treating the symptoms.
As the virus is airborne, doctors advise the use of face masks and recommend people wash their hands regularly. Such basic rules of hygiene will have to suffice until modern science can fill in the blanks.