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School of Medicine
Frequently Asked Questions About H1N1 Flu (Swine flu)
- What is H1N1 flu?
- Why is H1N1 flu sometimes called “swine flu?”
- How does H1N1 flu spread?
- How can I avoid getting H1N1 flu?
- How do I know if I have H1N1 Flu?
- What are the symptoms of H1N1 Flu?
- What are the signs of more severe illness with H1N1 flu?
- What should I do if someone I live with has confirmed H1N1 flu?
- How is H1N1 flu treated?
- How different is the H1N1 (swine flu) virus from the H5N1 (avian/bird flu) virus?
- Does a regular flu shot give me some protection against H1N1 flu?
- For how long is someone contagious with H1N1 flu?
A: H1N1 is a new influenza virus causing illness in people. This new virus was first detected in people in the U.S. in April 2009 and was initially call “swine flu.” In some respects the H1N1 virus is just like any other influenza virus. It causes a predominantly respiratory illness. This new virus has caused some anxiety around the world, though most of those who get it say it feels like regular flu. What is unique about this virus is that it is a mutated type of virus so that nobody in the U.S. or probably worldwide has any immunity to it. That is why it has the ability to cause widespread infections
A: This virus was originally referred to as “swine flu” because laboratory testing showed that many of the genes in this new virus were very similar to influenza viruses that normally occur in pigs in North America.
A: The CDC believes that this H1N1 virus is spread in the same way that seasonal flu spreads. You could catch the flu directly from droplets from the cough or sneeze of an infected person, or by touching an object they recently touched, and then touching your eyes, mouth, or nose. That's why you should make washing your hands a habit, even when you're not ill. Infected people can start spreading flu germs up to a day before symptoms start, and for up to seven days after getting sick, according to the CDC. Children, especially younger children, might potentially be contagious for longer periods.
A: If possible, try to avoid close contact with people who maybe ill.
- avoid touching your mouth and nose;
- clean hands thoroughly with soap and water, or cleanse them with an alcohol-based hand rub on a regular basis (especially if touching the mouth and nose, or surfaces that are potentially contaminated);
- reduce the amount of time you spend in crowded settings;
- practice good health habits including adequate sleep, eating nutritious food, and keeping physically active.
A: You will not be able to tell the difference between seasonal flu and H1N1 influenza without medical help. Typical symptoms to watch for are similar to seasonal viruses and include fever, cough, headache, body aches, sore throat and runny nose. Only your medical practitioner and local health authority can confirm a case of influenza of H1N1flu.
A: The symptoms of novel H1N1 flu virus in people are similar to the symptoms of seasonal flu and include fever, cough, sore throat, runny or stuffy nose, body aches, headache, chills and fatigue. A significant number of people who have been infected with this virus also have reported diarrhea and vomiting. Also, like seasonal flu, severe illnesses and death has occurred as a result of illness associated with this virus.
A: While most of the current H1N1 influenza cases have been mild so far, infected individuals should still be aware of some of the more severe illness with H1N1 flu.
In children, emergency warning signs that need urgent medical attention include:
- Fast breathing or trouble breathing
- Bluish skin color
- Dehydration, or not drinking enough fluids
- Sluggish, not waking up or not interacting
- Irritability to the point that the child does not want to be held
- Flulike symptoms improve but then return with fever and worse cough
- Fever with a rash
In adults, symptoms that need emergency medical attention include:
- Difficulty breathing or shortness of breath
- Pain or pressure in the chest or abdomen
- Sudden dizziness
- Severe or persistent vomiting
If a person has any of the above symptoms they should seek medical care immediately. For any questions consult your regular medical provider or the local health department.
A: Follow the same precautions you would to avoid ordinary seasonal flu.
- Limit your contact with the affected person.
- Avoid close contact such as kissing, and do not share towels, glasses or toothbrushes with the affected person.
- Avoid having visitors.
- If visitors must enter the home, they should avoid close contact with the affected person.
- Wash your hands with soap and water or with an alcohol-based hand rub.
A: H1N1 flu is sensitive to the antiviral drugs Tamiflu and Relenza. The CDC recommends those drugs to prevent or treat swine flu; the drugs are most effective when taken within 48 hours of the start of flu symptoms. But not everyone needs those drugs. Most people who have come down with H1N1 flu have recovered without treatment.
A: In the last decade we've really had two major circulating forms of virus that we're particularly concerned about -- that is the avian flu, or bird flu, and the swine H1N1 virus. They are both influenza A viruses, but in terms of their genetic makeup and how they behave they are very, very different infections.
A: It's unclear at this time whether previous flu shots or having had the flu in the past will protect you. It may be that some partial protection may be provided by earlier shots or having had the flu.
A: It's not clear exactly how long the contagious period is for H1N1 flu. However, researchers believe that it's similar to seasonal flu in that it lasts for one day before symptoms appear, and then seven days while the individual has symptoms. It may be a longer period for children.