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Swine Flu Overview: Details about the H1N1 Virus and What it Means to Your Health

Written by Lisa Jillanza

H1N1 image 1 We've all been following the progression of the H1N1 virus since it first appeared on the world's health scene last spring. With school's re-opening their doors after summer vacation it's important to re-educate ourselves on the H1N1 virus and what it means to you and your family's health.

According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention website, H1N1 is a new influenza virus causing illness in people throughout the globe. The new virus was first detected in the United States in April 2009. It spreads from person-to-person in much the same way that regular seasonal influenza viruses spread. On June 11, 2009, the World Health Organization signaled that a pandemic of novel H1N1 flu was underway.

Is H1N1 Contagious and How Does it Spread? H1N1 is contagious and spreads from human to human the same way that seasonal flu spreads. Flu is spread through coughing and sneezing. People may also become infected by touching something such as a surface or object that has the flu virus on it and then touching their mouth or nose. People infected with seasonal and novel H1N1 may be able to infect others from 1 day before getting sick to 5 to 7 days after.

It's important to note the signs and symptoms associated with H1N1 virus. Symptoms include fever, cough, sore throat, runny or stuffy nose, body aches, headache, chills, and fatigue. Some have also reported diarrhea and vomiting. Most people who have become ill with this new virus in the United States have recovered without requiring medical treatment. However, as with any illness effects have ranged from mild to severe.

How Does H1N1 Differ From Seasonal Flu? Seasonal flu most commonly affects people 65 years of age and older, children younger than five years old, pregnant women, and people of any age with chronic medical conditions. Seasonal flu can cause mild to severe illness with an average of 36,000 fatalities from flu-related complications in the United States and more the 200,000 hospitalizations from flu-related causes. Of those hospitalized, 20,000 are children younger than 5 years of age. Over 90% of deaths and 60% of hospitalization occur in people older than 65.

On the other hand with H1N1 virus, CDC research shows that H1N1 flu has caused greater disease burden in people younger than 25 years of age than older people. At this time, there are few cases and few deaths reported in people older than 64 years old, which is unusual when compared with seasonal flu. Laboratory studies have shown that children and adults younger than 60 years old do not have existing antibody to the virus and about one third of adults older than 60 have antibodies against the virus.

However, pregnancy and other previously recognized high risk medical conditions from seasonal influenza appear to be associated with increased risk of complications from H1N1. These underlying conditions include asthma, diabetes, suppressed immune systems, heart disease, kidney disease, neurocognitive and neuromuscular disorders and pregnancy.

Prevention and Treatment There is no vaccine available right now to protect against the H1N1 virus, however, there is a vaccine that is currently in production and may be ready for the public sometime in the fall. But there are a few everyday actions that can help to prevent the spread of germs that cause illnesses like influenza. Here's a few actions that the CDC recommends you take to ward H1N1 from you and your family: H1N1 image 2 Cover your nose and mouth with a tissue 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. CDC recommends that when you wash your hands, wash with soap and warm water for 15 to 20 seconds. When soap and water are not available, alcohol-based disposable hand wipes or gel sanitizers may be used. Avoid touching your eyes, nose or mouth. Germs spread this way. Try to avoid close contact with sick people. If you are sick with flu-like illness, CDC recommends that you stay home for at least 24 hours after your fever is gone, except to get medical care or for other necessities. (Your fever should be gone without the use of a fever-reducing medicine.) Keep away from others as much as possible to keep from making others sick. Follow public health advice regarding school closures, avoiding crowds and other social distancing measures. Be prepared in case you get sick and need to stay home for a week or so; a supply of over-the-counter medicines, alcohol-based hand rubs, tissues and other related items might could be useful and help avoid the need to make trips out in public while you are sick and contagious.

What Should I do if I get Sick? If you become ill with flu-like symptoms, including fever, body aches, runny or stuffy nose, sore throat, nausea, or vomiting or diarrhea, you should stay home and avoid contact with other people. CDC recommends that you stay home for at least 24 hours after your fever is gone. Data collected during spring 2009 found that most people with the H1N1 influenza virus who were not hospitalized had a fever that lasted 2 to 4 days; this would require an exclusion period of 3 to 5 days in most cases. Those with more severe illness are likely to have a fever for longer periods of time.

If you acquire the virus, stay away from others as much as possible to keep from making others sick. Keeping people with a fever at home may reduce the number of people who get infected, since elevated temperature is associated with increased contagiousness of influenza virus.

Many people with flu viruses are contagious until 24 hours after their fevers go away, but at lower levels than during their fever. Shedding of influenza virus can be detected for 10 days or more in some cases. Therefore, when people who have had influenza-like illness return to work, school, or other community settings they should continue to practice good respiratory etiquette and hand hygiene and avoid close contact with people they know to be at increased risk of influenza-related complications. Because some people may shed influenza virus before they feel ill, and because some people with influenza will not have a fever, it is important that all people cover their cough and wash hands at all times.

If you feel any of the symptoms described above, contact your health care provider or seek medical care. Your health care provider will determine whether flu testing or treatment is needed. 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 or gray skin color Not drinking enough fluids Severe or persistent vomiting 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

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 Flu-like symptoms improve but then return with fever and worse cough