The virus involved in the Swine Flu ‘pandemic' of 2009 is a variant of the Influenza A virus, possibly incorporating genetic elements of human flu, avian influenza and swine influenza (via ‘reassortment'). Influenza virus has the capacity to mutate and to mix with other variants, making it a very changeable enemy.
Swine Flu is a zoonosis. The virus appears to be transmissible from pig populations to humans and from human to human, although the origins of this particular strain are not yet established with any degree of certainty (at the time of writing).
We have to take cognisance of the disastrously unsafe way in which we farm livestock (factory farming), if we are ever to be less at risk from such infections derived from animal populations. Modern farming methods act in a doubly negative way. They induce stress, which reduces the immune capability of the animals and they involve overcrowding in a shared air space, encouraging the spread of infection and the mutation of viral strains. Humans working in such conditions are also well placed to share viruses with the unfortunate animals. We have enough risks from office environments, pubs, social venues, air travel, meetings, underground crowding and wherever else we congregate, without adding to our risks by dangerous farming practices.
Influenza vaccination and antiviral drugs are not necessarily the safest way forward. There are reports of possible serious (even fatal) side effects from the antiviral treatment and the vaccine is yet to be released and is unproven, quite apart from the possible general dangers of vaccination that are the subject of debate. Interestingly, manufacturers are being given total legal immunity from any lawsuits that may result from any new Swine Flu vaccine. Similar deals are apparently being done in the UK and the rest of Europe.
As things currently stand in the UK, the disease does not appear to be obviously worse than seasonal influenza but this situation may change. Obviously, some families have been hit very hard by the rare deadly effects or complications of the swine flu virus. Our hearts go out to those who have lost loved ones. It is not clear what combinations of factors make the disease deadly in a few cases, yet mild in most. Nonetheless, it will be no surprise that there won't be much of a market for flu vaccine, pneumonia vaccine or Oseltamivir (Tamiflu) around here.