H1N1 Flu Virus
What is swine flu?
Swine flu, also known as the H1N1 virus, is a relatively new strain of an influenza virus that causes symptoms similar to the regular flu. It originated in pigs but is spread primarily from person to person.
Swine flu made headlines in 2009 when it was first discovered in humans and became a pandemic. Pandemics are contagious diseases affecting people throughout the world or on multiple continents at the same time.
The World Health Organization (WHO) declared the H1N1 pandemic over in August 2010. Since then, the H1N1 virus has been known as a regular human flu virus. It continues to spread during flu season like other strains of the flu. The flu shot developed each year by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC)usually includes a vaccination against a type of H1N1 virus.
H1N1 flu is also known as swine flu. It’s called swine flu because in the past, the people who caught it had direct contact with pigs. That changed several years ago, when a new virus emerged that spread among people who hadn’t been near pigs.
In 2009, H1N1 was spreading fast around the world, so the World Health Organization called it a pandemic. Since then, people have continued to get sick from swine flu, but not as many.
While swine flu isn’t as scary as it seemed a few years ago, it’s still important to protect yourself from getting it. Like seasonal flu, it can cause more serious health problems for some people. The best bet is to get a flu vaccine, or flu shot, every year. Swine flu is one of the viruses included in the vaccine.
How Do You Catch It?
The same way as the seasonal flu. When people who have it cough or sneeze, they spray tiny drops of the virus into the air. If you come in contact with these drops, touch a surface (like a doorknob or sink) where the drops landed, or touch something an infected person has recently touched, you can catch H1N1 swine flu.
People who have it can spread it one day before they have any symptoms and as many as 7 days after they get sick. Kids can be contagious for as long as 10 days.
Despite the name, you can’t catch swine flu from eating bacon, ham, or any other pork product.
Swine Flu Symptoms
These, too, are pretty much the same as seasonal flu. They can include:
- Sore throat
- Stuffy or runny nose
- Body aches
Like the regular flu, swine flu can lead to more serious problems including pneumonia, a lung infection, and other breathing problems. And it can make an illness like diabetes or asthma worse. If you have symptoms like shortness of breath, severe vomiting, pain in your belly or sides, dizziness, or confusion, call your doctor or 911 right away.
Are There Tests for Swine Flu?
Yes. Without one it’s hard to tell whether you have swine flu or seasonal flu, because most symptoms are the same. If you have swine flu, you may be more likely to feel sick and your stomach and throw up than with regular flu. But a lab test is the only way to know. Even a rapid flu test you can get in your doctor’s office won’t tell you for sure.
To test for swine flu, your doctor runs a swab — a bigger version of the ones in your bathroom — up the inside of your nose around the back of your throat. But the test isn’t as common or widespread as those for regular flu. So the only people who really need to be tested are those in the hospital or those at high risk for life-threatening problems from swine flu, such as:
- Children under 5 years old
- People 65 or older
- Children and teens (under age 18) who are getting long-term aspirintherapy and who might be at risk for Reye’s syndrome after being infected with swine flu. Reye’s syndrome is a life-threatening illness linked to aspirin use in children.
- Pregnant women
- Adults and children with chronic lung, heart, liver, blood, nervous system, neuromuscular, or metabolic problems
- Adults and children who have weakened immune systems (including those who take medications to suppress their immune systems or who have HIV)
- People in nursing homes and other long-term care facilities
How Is It Treated?
Some of the same antiviral drugs that are used to treat seasonal flu also work against H1N1 swine flu. Oseltamivir (Tamiflu), peramivir (Rapivab), and zanamivir (Relenza) seem to work best, although some kinds of swine flu don’t respond to oseltamivir.
These drugs can help you get well faster. They can also make you feel better. They work best when you take them within 48 hours of the first flu symptoms, but they can help even if you get them later on.
Antibiotics won’t do anything for you. That’s because flu is caused by a virus, not bacteria.
Over-the-counter pain remedies and cold and flu medications can help relieve aches, pains, and fever. Don’t give aspirin to children under age 18 because of the risk of Reye’s syndrome. Make sure that over-the-counter cold medications do not have aspirin before giving them to children.
Is There a Vaccine for Swine Flu?
The same flu vaccine that protects against seasonal flu also protects against the H1N1 swine flu strain. You can get it as a shot or as a nasal spray. Either way, it “teaches” your immune system to attack the real virus
The same flu vaccine that protects against seasonal flu also protects against the H1N1 swine flu strain. You can get it as a shot or as a nasal spray. Either way, it “teaches” your immune system to attack the real virus.
Besides a flu shot, there are other things you can do to stay healthy:
- Wash your handsthroughout the day with soap and water. Sing the “Happy Birthday” song twice to make sure you’ve washed long enough. Or use an alcohol-based hand sanitizer.
- Don’t touch your eyes, nose, or mouth.
- Avoid people who are sick.
Like other strains of the flu, H1N1 is highly contagious, allowing it to spread quickly from person to person. A simple sneeze can cause thousands of germs to spread through the air. The virus can linger on tables and surface areas like door knobs, waiting to be picked up.
The best means of dealing with swine flu is to prevent it. Hand sanitization is important to stop the spread of the virus. Staying away from infected people will help stop person-to-person transmission.
Risk factors for swine flu
When it first emerged, swine flu was most common in children 5 years and older and young adults. This was unusual because most flu virus infections are a higher risk for complications in older adults or the very young. Today, risk factors for getting swine flu are the same as for any other strain of the flu. You’re most at risk if you spend time in an area with a large number of people who are infected with swine flu.
Some people are at higher risk for becoming seriously ill if they’re infected with swine flu. These groups include:
- adults over age 65
- children under 5 years old
- young adults and children under age 19 who are receiving long-term aspirin(Bufferin) therapy
- people with compromised immune systems (due to a disease such as AIDS)
- pregnant women
- people with chronic illnesses such as asthma, heart disease, diabetes mellitus, or neuromuscular disease
Causes of swine flu
Swine flu is caused by a strain of influenza virus that usually only infects pigs. Unlike typhus, which can be transmitted by lice or ticks, transmission usually occurs from person to person, not animal to person.
You can’t catch swine flu from eating properly cooked pork products.
Swine flu is very contagious. The disease is spread through saliva and mucus particles. People may spread it by:
- touching a germ-covered surfaceand then touching their eyes or nose
Symptoms of swine flu
The symptoms of swine flu are very much like those of regular influenza. They include:
- sore throat
- runny or stuffynose
- body aches
- nausea and vomiting
Diagnosing swine flu
Your doctor can make a diagnosis by sampling fluid from your body. To take a sample, your doctor or a nurse may swab your nose or throat.
The swab will be analyzed using various genetic and laboratory techniques to identify the specific type of virus.
Treating swine flu
Most cases of swine flu don’t require medication for treatment. You don’t need to see a doctor unless you’re at risk for developing medical complications from the flu. You should focus on relieving your symptoms and preventing the spread of the H1N1 to other people.
Two antiviral drugs are recommended for treating swine flu: the oral drugs oseltamivir (Tamiflu) and zanamivir (Relenza). Because flu viruses can develop resistance to these drugs, they’re often reserved for people who are at high risk for complications from the flu. People who are otherwise generally healthy and get swine flu will be able to fight the infection on their own.
Swine flu symptom relief
Methods for managing the symptoms of swine flu are similar to the regular flu:
- Get plenty of rest. This will help your immune system focus on fighting the infection.
- Drink plenty of water and other liquids to prevent dehydration. Soup and clear juices will help replenish your body of lost nutrients.
- Take over-the-counter pain relievers for symptoms such as headacheand sore throat.
Outlook for swine flu
Severe cases of swine flu can be fatal. Most fatal cases occur in those with underlying chronic medical conditions, such as HIV or AIDS. The majority of people with swine flu recover and can anticipate a normal life expectancy.
Preventing swine flu
The best way to prevent swine flu is to get a yearly flu vaccination. Other easy ways to prevent swine flu include:
- frequently washing hands with soap or hand sanitizer
- not touching your nose, mouth, or eyes (The virus can survive on surfaces like telephones and tabletops.)
- staying home from work or school if you’re ill
- avoiding large gatherings when swine flu is in season
It’s important to follow any public health recommendations regarding school closures or avoiding crowds during the flu season. These recommendations may come from the CDC, WHO, National Institutes of Health, or other governmental public health institutions. Flu season shifts from year to year, but in the United States it generally starts in October and runs until as late as May. It usually peaks in January, although it’s possible to get the flu any time of year.
Treatments and drugs
Most cases of flu, including H1N1 flu, require only symptom relief. If you have a chronic respiratory disease, your doctor may prescribe additional medications to help relieve your symptoms.
The antiviral drugs oseltamivir (Tamiflu) and zanamivir (Relenza) are sometimes prescribed within the first day or two of symptoms to reduce the severity of your symptoms, and possibly the risk of complications. But, flu viruses can develop resistance to these drugs. To make development of resistance less likely and maintain supplies of these drugs for those who need them most, antivirals are reserved for people at high risk of complications.
High-risk groups are those who:
- Are in a hospital, nursing home or other long-term care facility
- Are younger than 5 years of age, particularly children younger than 2 years
- Are 65 years and older
- Are pregnant or within two weeks of delivery, including women who have had pregnancy loss
- Are younger than 19 years of age and are receiving long-term aspirin therapy, because of an increased risk of developing Reye’s syndrome, a rare but potentially fatal disease that can occur when using aspirin during a viral illness
- Are morbidly obese, defined as having a body mass index above 40
- Have certain chronic medical conditions, including asthma, emphysema, heart disease, diabetes, neuromuscular disease, or kidney, liver or blood disease
- Are immunosuppressed due to certain medications or HIV
- Are American Indians or Native Alaskans
Lifestyle and home remedies
If you develop any type of flu, these measures may help ease your symptoms:
- Drink plenty of liquids. Choose water, juice and warm soups to prevent dehydration.
- Rest. Get more sleep to help your immune system fight infection.
Consider pain relievers. Use an over-the-counter pain reliever, such as acetaminophen (Tylenol, others) or ibuprofen (Advil, Motrin IB, others), cautiously. Also, use caution when giving aspirin to children or teenagers.
Though aspirin is approved for use in children older than age 3, children and teenagers recovering from chickenpox or flu-like symptoms should never take aspirin. This is because aspirin has been linked to Reye’s syndrome, a rare but potentially life-threatening condition, in such children. Remember, pain relievers may make you more comfortable, but they won’t make your symptoms go away faster and may have side effects. Ibuprofen may cause stomach pain, bleeding and ulcers. If taken for a long period or in higher than recommended doses, acetaminophen can be toxic to your liver.
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