How did Swine Influenza Virus (SIV) originate? And how did it get the name H1N1?

The Answer:

Swine flu originated in China. Chinese farmers, in attempts to create more efficient methods of raising livestock, invented a rather brilliant method of doing so. Called integrated farming, the process’s core principle was “waste not, want not”. To achieve this, farmers set up their livestock in this way. First, the poultry were fed. Whatever excess and/or waste produced from their feeding was given to the pigs, known to be able to eat nearly anything. From this, the waste of feeding the pigs was given to the fish, many of whom are known bottom feeders. In this way, the poor farmers were able to support more animals with less food costs than ever before.

Rather inspired is it not? What these farmers did not consider was the cross-contamination issue inherent within integrated farming. This technique is fraught with chances for bacteria to interbreed and mutate. Viruses already present also have the chance to hop from host to host. It is in these circumstances that Swine Influenza Virus both originated and began to spread. In these circumstances, all types of organisms the virus has the chance to inhabit (people, poultry, and pigs) all are in extremely close contact with each other. This issue makes the farms a veritable breeding ground for the disease.

The graphic below gives a good illustration of how the swine strain of the virus was created:

Let’s break this image down step by step:

  1. Sometimes, the human strain of the flu is transmitted purely through the air to the pig. Physical contact can also transmit the virus.
  2. The bird strain of the virus can also be transmitted through the air to the pig. The food recycling method used in integrated farming also has a high chance of infecting the pig.
  3. Due to pigs’ inherent physiology, they are living breeding grounds for bacteria and viruses. This trait is also due to the dirty conditions pigs often live in. Pigs are, after all, naturally unclean animals. When the two viruses are present within their bodies, they mix and the genes cross as the disease breeds and grows. The swine flu variant is born from the intermingling of these different viruses.
  4. The swine flu in its final form is now transmitted back to humans. It does so through the same methods the pig received the virus initially: the air and through physical contact.

The swine flu, as a final product, has one gene from humans, two genes from poultry, and five genes from pigs. The hybrid virus has a spike-shaped outer surface comprised of proteins called H1 and N1. The name H1N1 is derived from this trait.

Theoretically, if a person has had the human or bird variant of the flu, the natural antibodies built up by the body should recognize and eradicate the virus when it enters the body. But because the spikes on the outer shell of the virus are shaped differently, the immune system cannot recognize the disease. The antibodies present are completely useless. Due to this, a person newly infected with the swine flu will invariably get sick. The virus has free reign to infect its new host. It rapidly multiplies its numbers by penetrating human cells, infecting them, and converts them to make replicas of itself.

Ultimately, the body will (hopefully) produce antibodies to kill the virus. The body will do this with outside help from a vaccine, most of the time. But the virus continues to survive because of its high infectivity rate. It easily transmits itself from human to human. It does so through sneezing and coughing, two very common methods of transmitting sickness. The unthinking virus utilizes normal, common symptoms of illness to propagate itself, keeping humanity from eradicating it once and for all.

Some viruses are so adaptable that if no method of infecting other hosts is readily available, the virus will remain dormant until such methods are viable. AIDS is a very good example. Because it does not spread through air, but mainly through physical contact or derivatives thereof, it remains dormant until a clear opportunity presents itself.

How to stay healthy:

In general, eating healthy foods, washing your hands, and staying in shape are good ways to ensure most infections are warded off. Immune boosting supplements are also a good way of reducing the chance of getting sick. That being said, if you think you have the flu or any other type of disease (especially with symptoms like coughing, sneezing, fever, or aches) please call your doctor immediately. They will know what to do.