When the “swine flu” was first reported in the United States, many schools closed for a week at a time and there was a lot of buzz about it on the news. We now know a lot more about the H1N1 flu (also called the “swine flu” and “Novel” H1N1 flu). Read on to learn more about the H1N1 flu and how to reduce your chances of getting it.
Is the H1N1 flu the same as the seasonal flu?
No. There are two types of flu. Every year, we see cases of both H1N1 flu (swine flu) and the “seasonal flu.” When swine flu was first reported, there were two separate vaccines for swine flu and seasonal flu, but now both are combined into one vaccine. It is important to receive this vaccine EVERY YEAR for full protection.
Is the H1N1 flu contagious?
Yes. The H1N1 flu is contagious, which means you can catch it from other people who have it. People are contagious about a day before they become sick until about 5-7 days after having flu symptoms. They can remain contagious longer if they are coughing. Children and young people have higher risks of getting the H1N1 flu than older adults, and they may get sicker than older adults do.
How do you get the H1N1 flu?
The flu is a virus (type of germ) that is spread when someone who has it coughs or sneezes near another person. The germs travel in the air and are breathed in by someone who is standing close by. The H1N1 flu germs can also be spread when germs are left on an object (such as a door knob) and someone touches the object and then their mouth or nose. Flu germs can actually live on a surface like this for 2-8 hours.
How can I protect myself from getting the H1N1 flu and the seasonal flu?
- Make sure to get the flu vaccine.
- Wash your hands often – use soap and water or an alcohol based cleanser like Purell; wash your hands extra well if you cough or sneeze into them.
- Use a tissue when you cough or sneeze – throw the tissue in the trash right away then wash your hands.
- Sneeze/cough against your inner arm or sleeve (not into your hands) if you don’t have a tissue.
- Don’t touch your eyes/nose because germs spread this way.
- Stay away from people who are sick whenever possible.
- Limit contact with others if you are sick to stop the spread of germs.
- Stay home if you are sick – you can go back to school 24 hrs after your fever has gone away.
- Try to keep healthy by getting enough sleep, eating well, and drinking plenty of fluids.
Is there a vaccine for the H1N1 flu?
Yes, there is an excellent and safe vaccine for H1N1. It is made in the exact same way the “seasonal” flu shot is made. Contrary to stories on the internet, the seasonal and H1N1 flu vaccines do not cause problems with walking or speaking. The most common side-effect is a little soreness of your arm. Make sure to protect yourself from the H1N1 flu and get vaccinated. Both H1N1 and seasonal flu vaccines have been combined into one vaccine, which means that you only need to get one shot to be protected against both types of flu.
Where can I get the H1N1 Flu vaccine?
You can get the H1N1 vaccine wherever flu shots are given in your area such as your health care provider’s office. The vaccine is also available in some schools and pharmacies.
What are the symptoms of the H1N1 flu?
The signs are similar to the seasonal flu and can be mild to severe.
- Sore throat
- Runny or stuffy nose
- Body aches
- General weakness
- Sometimes people can have diarrhea (loose bowel movements) and/or vomiting (throwing up)
What should I do if I think I have the flu?
If you are sick with flu-like symptoms, YOU SHOULD STAY HOME and avoid contact with others to prevent spreading the flu. DO NOT TAKE ASPIRIN or any cold or cough medicines with aspirin in it. You may take acetaminophen (tylenol) or ibuprofen (Advil, Motrin) if you have a fever. Stay home while you are sick. DO NOT leave your home except to get medical care. Do not go to school, participate in sports, work, travel, or go to public places such as a shopping mall or other places where you could spread your germs to others.
When should I see my health care provider (HCP)?
If you have severe illness, if you are pregnant, having trouble breathing, you can’t keep down fluids, or have any symptoms that worry you, contact your HCP or get medical care right away. If in doubt, it never hurts to call your doctor’s office and speak with either a nurse or your doctor to see if you need to come in.
If you have any of the following symptoms while you are sick with the flu, you should go to your nearest Emergency Room or urgent care facility.
- Trouble breathing or if you can’t catch your breath
- Pain or pressure in your chest or stomach area
- Dizziness that comes on suddenly
- Severe vomiting (throwing up) – you can’t keep anything down
- You get sick again with a fever or worse cough
How long will I be sick?
Most people who get the H1N1 flu or the seasonal flu are sick for 3-7 days. The symptoms are usually worst the first few days you’re sick and get better in a couple of days.
Is there any treatment for the H1N1 or seasonal flu?
Your doctor may suggest other anti-flu medicine if you have a medical problem that puts you at high risk for complications. If you are in doubt, call your doctor to discuss whether you need this medicine.
You can get more information and H1N1 flu updates at the Center for Disease Control website.
Boston Public Health Commission Public Health: H1N1 Fact Sheet, 8/13/09