H1N1 flu ... what should you do?

  1. What is H1N1 (swine flu)?
  2. Why is this new H1N1 virus sometimes called "swine flu"?
  3. What is the current state of H1N1 infections?
  4. What are the signs and symptoms of H1N1 flu in people?
  5. How does H1N1 flu spread?
  6. How serious is H1N1 flu?
  7. How can someone with the H1N1 flu infect someone else?
  8. What can I do to protect myself from getting sick?
  9. What medications are available to treat H1N1 flu infections in humans?
  10. What should I do if I get sick?


1. What is H1N1 (swine flu)?
H1N1 Influenza (initially refered to as "swine flu") is a new influenza virus causing illness in people. This new virus was first detected in people in the United States in April 2009. This virus is spreading from person-to-person, probably in much the same way that regular seasonal influenza viruses spread.

2. Why is this new H1N1 virus sometimes called “swine flu”?
Viruses change constantly and can infect humans and animals. Pigs can be infected by avian influenza and human influenza viruses, as well as swine influenza viruses. When influenza viruses from one species infects amother species, the viruses can reassort (i.e. swap genes) and new viruses that are a mix of swine, human and/or avian influenza viruses can emerge. 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. But further study has shown that this new virus is very different from what normally circulates in North American pigs. It has two genes from flu viruses that normally circulate in pigs in Europe and Asia, as well as avian genes and human genes. Scientists call this a “quadruple reassortant” virus.

3. What is the current state of H1N1 infections?
In late March and early April 2009, cases of human infection with H1N1 influenza were first reported in Southern California and near San Antonio, Texas. The outbreak intensified rapidly from that time in the U.S. and internationally, where the illness appears to be more severe than in the U.S. An updated case count of confirmed swine flu infections in the United States is kept at http://www.cdc.gov/h1n1flu/investigation.htm.

4. What are the signs and symptoms of H1N1 flu in people?
The symptoms of H1N1 flu in people are similar to the symptoms of regular flu and include fever, cough, sore throat, body aches, headache, chills and fatigue. Some people have reported diarrhea and vomiting. Also, like seasonal flu, severe illness (pneumonia and respiratory failure) and deaths have been reported with H1N1 flu infection in people, and as with any flu, H1N1 may cause a worsening of underlying chronic medical conditions.

5. How does H1N1 flu spread?
Spread of this H1N1 virus is thought to be happening in the same way that seasonal flu spreads. Flu viruses are spread mainly from person to person through coughing or sneezing by people with influenza. Sometimes people may become infected by touching something with flu viruses on it and then touching their mouth or nose.

The CDC has determined that this new H1N1 virus is contagious and is spreading from human to human. However, at this time, it is not known how easily the virus spreads between people.

H1N1 influenza viruses are not spread by food. You cannot get H1N1 influenza from eating pork or pork products. Eating properly handled and cooked food, and drinking conventionally-treated tap water is safe.

6. How serious is H1N1 flu?
It is not known at this time how severe this virus will be in the general population. CDC is studying the medical histories of people who have been infected with this virus to determine whether some people may be at greater risk from infection, serious illness or hospitalization from the virus. In seasonal flu, there are certain people that are at higher risk of serious flu-related complications. This includes people 65 years and older, children younger than five years old, pregnant women, and people of any age with chronic medical conditions. It is unknown at this time whether certain groups of people are at greater risk of serious flu-related complications from infection with this new virus. CDC also is conducting laboratory studies to see if certain people might have natural immunity to this virus, depending on their age.

7. How can someone with the H1N1 flu infect someone else?
Infected people may be able to infect others beginning 1 day before symptoms develop and up to 7 or more days after becoming sick. That means that you may be able to pass on the flu to someone else before you know you are sick, as well as while you are sick.

People with any influenza virus infection should be considered potentially contagious as long as they are symptomatic and possible for up to 7 days following illness onset. Children, especially younger children, might potentially be contagious for longer periods.

Germs can be spread when a person touches something that is contaminated with germs and then touches his or her eyes, nose, or mouth. Droplets from a cough or sneeze of an infected person move through the air. Germs can be spread when a person touches respiratory droplets from another person on a surface like a desk and then touches their own eyes, mouth or nose before washing their hands. We know that some viruses and bacteria can live 2-8 hours on surfaces like cafeteria tables, doorknobs, and desks. Frequent handwashing will help you reduce the chance of getting contamination from these common surfaces.

8. What can I do to protect myself from getting sick?
There is no vaccine available right now to protect against H1N1 flu.

Anything you can do to support your immune system may help protect you from contracting the H1N1 flu, or help support your defences should you become infected. Be sure to drink plenty of water and stay well-hydrated. Eat lots of colorful fruits and vegetables, avoid refined sugar and processed/junk food. Get plenty of fresh air and daily exercise. Be sure to sleep your fill and minimize stress. Other things that may be helpful include extra vitamin C, probiotics, echinacea, and astragalus.

Additionally, there are everyday actions that can help prevent the spread of germs that cause respiratory illnesses like influenza. Take these everyday steps to protect your health:
  • Cover your nose and mouth with a tissue or your sleeve when you cough or sneeze. Throw the tissue in the trash after you use it.
  • Wash your hands often with soap and water, especially after you cough or sneeze. Washing your hands often will help protect you from germs. We recommend that when you wash your hands -- with soap and warm water -- that you wash for 15 to 20 seconds. When soap and water are not available, alcohol-based disposable hand wipes or gel sanitizers may be used. You can find them in most supermarkets and drugstores. If using gel, rub your hands until the gel is dry. The gel doesn't need water to work; the alcohol in it kills the germs on your hands.
  • Avoid touching your eyes, nose or mouth. Germs spread this way.
  • Try to avoid close contact with sick people.
  • If you get sick with influenza, CDC recommends that you stay home from work or school and limit contact with others to keep from infecting them.

9. What medications are available to treat H1N1 flu infections in humans?
There are four different antiviral drugs that are licensed for use in the US for the treatment of influenza: amantadine, rimantadine, oseltamivir and zanamivir. Antiviral drugs are prescription medicines (pills, liquid or an inhaler) that fight against the flu by keeping flu viruses from reproducing in your body. If you get sick, antiviral drugs can make your illness milder and make you feel better faster. They may also prevent serious flu complications. For treatment, antiviral drugs work best if started soon after getting sick (within 2 days of symptoms). At this time, CDC recommends the use of oseltamivir or zanamivir for the treatment and/or prevention of infection with this new H1N1 virus. During the current outbreak, the priority use for influenza antiviral drugs is to treat severe influenza illness.

10. What should I do if I get sick?
If you become ill with influenza-like symptoms, including fever, body aches, runny nose, sore throat, nausea, or vomiting or diarrhea, you may want to contact your health care provider, particularly if you are worried about your symptoms. Your health care provider will determine whether influenza testing or treatment is needed.

If you are sick, you should stay home and avoid contact with other people as much as possible to keep from spreading your illness to others. Your co-workers and your children's classmates will appreciate it!

If you become ill and experience any of the following warning signs, seek emergency medical care.

In children, emergency warning signs that need urgent medical attention include:
  • Fast breathing or trouble breathing
  • Bluish skin color
  • Not drinking enough fluids
  • Not waking up or not interacting
  • Being so irritable that the child does not want to be held
  • Flu-like symptoms improve but then return with fever and worse cough
  • Fever with a rash

In adults, emergency warning signs that need urgent medical attention include:
  • Difficulty breathing or shortness of breath
  • Pain or pressure in the chest or abdomen
  • Sudden dizziness
  • Confusion
  • Severe or persistent vomiting