Eight Facts You Should Know
The 2009 H1N1 influenza virus, initially called swine flu, has made its way across the country—and around the world. What do you need to know about 2009 H1N1, and what should you do to protect yourself? Here are some key facts to keep you and your family healthy.
1. What is 2009 H1N1 flu
2009 H1N1 flu is a new virus that causes illness in people. It was originally referred to as swine flu because many of its genes are similar to a virus that normally occurs in pigs. But additional research has shown that 2009 H1N1 is made up of a combination of swine flu genes, as well as avian and human flu genes. A recent outbreak is spreading globally, and the World Health Organization (WHO) has declared it a pandemic. Cases have been reported around the world, including in the United States, Mexico, Canada, and Spain. Cases were first reported in Mexico.
2. How does it spread?
The virus is thought to spread between humans in the same way that seasonal flu spreads—from person to person through coughing or sneezing.
People who have 2009 H1N1 flu are considered contagious starting one day before they show symptoms and for up to seven or more days after the illness starts.
3. What symptoms should I look for?
2009 H1N1 symptoms are similar to regular human flu symptoms and may include:
- Sore throat
- Body aches
Some people have also reported diarrhea and vomiting.
If you experience one or more of the following symptoms, seek emergency medical care right away:
- Difficulty breathing
- Pressure or pain in the stomach or chest
- Persistent or severe vomiting
- Flu symptoms that improve and later return with fever and worse cough
4. How can I protect myself and my family?
Keep your family safe by taking the following precautions:
- Wash your hands often with soap and water, especially after you cough or sneeze.
- Use an alcohol-based hand sanitizer when you don’t have soap and water to wash your hands.
- Cover your nose and mouth with a tissue when you cough or sneeze. Put the tissue in the trash.
- Keep surfaces clean by wiping them down with a household disinfectant.
- Try not to get close to sick people.
The flu shot is the best way to protect yourself from seasonal flu, but that vaccine won’t offer protection against 2009 H1N1. The U.S. Food and Drug Administration has approved several 2009 H1N1 vaccines, and they are currently offered in some states for certain people. Ask your doctor if the 2009 H1N1 flu vaccine is available. If it is, your doctor can tell you if you should receive the vaccine.
The CDC recommends that these high-risk groups receive the 2009 H1N1 vaccine when it first becomes available for them:
- Pregnant women
- People who live with children younger than 6 months and caretakers of those younger than 6 months. Infants have a higher risk for flu complications, but the vaccine is not for children under 6 months. Experts believe vaccinating people who have close contact with infants can help protect them.
- Health care workers
- People 6 months old to 24 years old
- People 25 to 64 years old with health conditions that put them at higher risk for flu complications
5. How dangerous is this flu?
Like seasonal flu, 2009 H1N1 can range from mild to severe, and can be deadly in some cases. It may also make some chronic medical conditions worse. Researchers believe that some people at high risk for seasonal flu complications are also at higher risk for complications from 2009 H1N1 flu.
However, unlike seasonal flu, 2009 H1N1 infections have occurred mainly in younger people. Research suggests that many older adults may have some degree of resistance to the virus. One theory is that older adults may have had previous exposure to a related influenza A H1N1 virus that circulated before 1957.
6. Should I wear a facemask?
It’s not yet known if wearing facemasks to control the spread of this flu is effective. It’s important to remember that no single action can offer complete protection, but several precautionary steps combined can help reduce the risk of spreading the virus. You may consider wearing a facemask in crowded settings.
7. What should I do if I get the flu?
Stay home from work or school and see a doctor immediately. At this time, the CDC recommends the antiviral drugs oseltamivir (brand name Tamiflu®) or zanamivir (brand name Relenza®) for treating people who are in the hospital for 2009 H1N1 or who are at high risk for complications.
8. Can I get 2009 H1N1 from eating pork?
It is not spread through food. Eating well-cooked pork and pork products does not pose any risk for infection from this virus.