H1N1 flu is more commonly known as swine flu. It is called swine flu because in the past the people that caught it had direct contact with pigs. However, this changed several years back when a new virus emerged which spread among individuals who didn’t have any direct contact with pigs. In 2009, H1N1 was spreading so fast that the World Health Organization declared a pandemic. Since then, people still get sick from swine flu but the number of infected people significantly decreased*. Swine flu is not as scary as it was a few years ago, but it is as important to protect yourself. It can cause more serious health problems on certain individuals just like seasonal flu. You can be protected by getting a flu vaccine every year.
Signs and Symptoms
People with swine flu can be contagious one day before symptoms appear and as many as 7 days after they experience symptoms. Children can be contagious for up to 10 days. Most of the symptoms are the same as seasonal flu including the following:
Like seasonal flu, H1N1 flu can lead to serious complications like pneumonia and respiratory failure. It can also worsen conditions like asthma and diabetes. If you have symptoms like shortness of breath, abdominal pain, severe vomiting, dizziness or confusion, seek medical help immediately.
Causes and Risk Factors
H1N1 flu is caused by a particular strain of influenza virus that usually only infects swine. The main mode of transmission is from person to person direct contact. It is highly contagious and is spread through saliva and mucus particles. It can be spread by sneezing, coughing and touching an infected surface then touching the eyes or nose.
Swine flu is unlike the typical flu in the sense that it affects young adults mostly. Flu viruses usually attack the very young or elderly. Experts believe that the elderly has some form of immunity to swine flu due to previous exposure. The other risk factors include history of infections, compromised immune system and pregnancy.
Tests and Diagnosis
It is difficult to tell if a person simply has seasonal flu or H1N1 flu because the symptoms are very similar. The difference is that people with swine flu are more likely to feel nauseous and vomit compared to those with seasonal flu. A laboratory test is the only way to be sure if it is swine flu. A rapid flu test will not tell you if it is H1N1 flu. To test for swine flu, a sample is taken from the nose or throat that is then sent to a specialized laboratory. Ordinary laboratories and doctor’s offices are unable to identify the specific antigens associated with the type of virus.
Treatments and Medications
Like most cases of flu, H1N1 flu usually requires symptom relief only. If the patient also has a chronic respiratory disease, additional medication to relieve symptoms may be prescribed. The antiviral drugs oseltamivir and zanamivir are sometimes prescribed for reducing* the severity of symptoms, but viruses can develop resistance to these drugs. Antivirals are reserved for people who have a high risk of developing complications.
High-risk individuals include the following:
- Those who are already hospitalized
- Those younger than 5 years old especially babies 2 years old and younger
- Those who are 65 years and older
- Those who are pregnant or within 2 weeks of delivery
- Those younger than 19 years old and receiving long-term aspirin therapy
- Those who have certain chronic medical conditions like asthma, heart disease, diabetes, obesity, kidney disease and liver disease.
- Those who are immunosuppressed from HIV or medications.
Precautions and Self Care
If you have swine flu or any flu, here are measures that may help ease symptoms:
Drink plenty of fluids – choose water, 100% juice and warm soups that help prevent dehydration. A target that your urine becomes clear or pale yellow.
Get plenty of rest – get more sleep to help your immune system in fighting the infection.
Consider pain relievers – you can take pain relievers if you are experiencing muscle and joint pain, but it would be best to check with your physician before intake.
Here are some measures for preventing swine flu and limiting its spread:
- Stay home if you are sick. If you have swine flu, you can infect others starting about 24 hours before symptoms begin and ending about a week later.
- Wash your hands frequently and thoroughly especially after going to crowded places.
- Contain your coughs and sneezes.
- Avoid contact by staying away from crowded places.