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A new influenza virus that hit the United States in April 2009, swine flu has since spread worldwide, similarly to a seasonal virus. The World Health Organization declared it a pandemic and today, it remains in the news as possible outbreaks can happen again. Swine flu is an influenza, also known as 2009 H1N1 type A. Initially believed to be a virus that was spread by live pigs to humans (hence the nickname swine flu), it is actually transmitted from human to human. This human virus is not the seasonal influenza or H1N1 virus that many battle with, thinking it’s just a flu bug that will go away after a day or two. This current “swine flu” outbreak is caused by a new flu virus that differs in how it’s spread from person to person. It is called a “reassortant” or quadrant reassorant which is a mix of genes from swine, bird, and human flu viruses and it is distinguishable from other viruses with the name H1N1 swine flu virus. Many people have at least partial immunity to seasonal H1N1 viruses because they’ve either been infected with or vaccinated against the flu bug in the past; however, in this new form of swine flu, people do not have a natural immunity to it and the normal flu shot you get early in the winter season does not offer protection from this swine flu virus. Children and young adults have been hit most often with the virus.

Those at severe risk include pregnant women, asthmatics and those with lung disease, diabetes, heart disease, neurologic disease, immune suppression, or other chronic conditions. This virus comes with a number of common flu-like symptoms including a fever, cough, sore throat, runny nose, body aches, headache, chills, fatigue, and diarrhea and vomiting. Heath care experts recommend that people who think they may have the H1N1 infection stay home and avoid contact with others. Because these symptoms could be caused by a number of conditions, to diagnose swine flu, a health care professional will need to administer a flu test. A negative test result won’t necessarily mean you don’t have swine flu; the test’s accuracy depends on a number of factors including the quality of the manufacturer’s test, the sample collection method, and how much virus a person is shedding at the time of testing. To prevent the flu, the best remedy is through a vaccination. The CDC has a number of recommended vaccines based on who should receive the first dose when it is available and a breakdown for age groups. Zanamivir (Relenza) and Oseltamvir (Tamiflu) are two antiviral agents that either help prevent or reduce the effects of swine flu’s influenza symptoms.

These drugs should not be mixed together and they aren’t recommended for use if flu symptoms already have been present for 48 hours or more. In extreme cases, some patients may be hospitalized and those with severe infections may need a ventilator and treatment for pneumonia.

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