Swine flu and Covid-19 have been repeatedly compared in the past few months, given that they're both pandemics that sparked major panic across the world and in the US. But while these two illnesses have some things in common—symptoms, diagnoses—they're quite different on many, many levels.
Swine flu is a novel influenza A (H1N1) virus that emerged in the spring of 2009, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Covid-19, on the other hand, is a novel virus.
Both are transmitted through respiratory droplets in the air so they can spread by coughing, sneezing, or close contact. Symptoms are also similar, mainly fever, cough, body ache, headache, runny nose, loose motions. However, loss of taste and smell is unique to covid.
Certain differences may help us differentiate – swine flu of flu is more acute. It stays for one to three days whereas Covid may happen for two to 14 days. Covid is more contagious and can transmit to more people. However, even though complications are similar Covid tends to cause complications that affect multiple organs.
Swine flu was detected first in the US and then had spread across the country and eventually the world, and it contained a blend of flu genes that hadn't been previously seen in animals or people, the CDC says. "It was a new virus that jumped from pigs to humans but now, swine flu is just another seasonal influenza strain.
The H1N1 2009 influenza strain still circulates every flu season. However, since the presentation is similar and both have acute history and may both prove dangerous, it’s always important to suspect swine flu when Covid is ruled out.
Among the few cases of H1N1 treated last year, one case was suspected to be of Covid, however, the patient turned out to be negative but had similar symptoms. In another case, a 45-year-old man recovered from Covid and had symptoms of high-grade fever, cold, and cough. Both these patients had similar presentations -- one was non-covid and the other had just recovered. However, both responded well to treatment with oseltamivir for five days.
The confusion comes since both Covid and H1N1 have similar symptoms but swine flu is seen in young patients and pregnant ladies as compared to old and has less multiorgan involvement compared to Covid.
(Dr. Sulaiman Ladhani, Pulmonologist, Masina Hospital)