What is H1N1 influenza?
H1N1 influenza is a viral infection. It’s not the same as seasonal flu (influenza). The first outbreak occurred in 2009 and infected people all over the world. It was called swine flu early on because tests showed it was like flu viruses that occur in swine (pigs).
Symptoms of H1N1 influenza
Symptoms start 3 to 5 days after exposure to the virus. On average, they last about 8 days. Common symptoms include:
- sore throat
- muscle aches
- runny or stuffy nose
These symptoms are similar to those with any viral infection. However, call your doctor if your symptoms aren’t improving. H1N1 is a rare cause of these symptoms. Your doctor will tell you if you need an office visit to see if you have the virus.
Babies and children may have different symptoms.
- Trouble breathing.
- Fever combined with a rash.
- Confusion or impatience.
- Trouble waking up.
- Not drinking enough fluids.
- Flu-like symptoms that go away and then return with a fever and cough.
Call your doctor right away if your baby or child has any of these symptoms.
What causes H1N1 influenza?
A virus causes H1N1. It spreads from person to person. You can’t get it by eating pork or pork products.
It spreads from person to person as droplets are released during coughing or sneezing. You can become infected either by inhaling (breathing in) the virus, or touching a surface contaminated by the virus and then touching your mouth, nose, or eyes.
How is H1N1 influenza diagnosed?
Your doctor will do a physical exam and review your symptoms. This alone may alert him or her that you have H1N1. Your doctor may do a rapid flu test, but this checks for several viruses. The test to only check for H1N1 takes a few days to get results. Your doctor may want to start treatment right away and not wait for results. This is common if there is an H1N1 outbreak in your area and lots of people are infected.
Can H1N1 influenza be prevented or avoided?
The best way to avoid H1N1 is to get the flu vaccine. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) recommends that anyone 6 months of age or older receive the flu vaccine. People who work in health care should get the vaccine. So should anyone who lives with or takes care of children younger than 6 months of age.
There are 2 types of the vaccine. The trivalent flu vaccine protects against the 3 most common strains of flu each season. The quadrivalent vaccine protects against 4 strains. The flu vaccine has protected against H1N1 since 2010. In general, it’s safe, but there is a chance you may have a reaction. Tell your doctor if you have an allergy to something in the vaccine or if you’ve had a reaction in the past. Sometimes there isn’t enough of a certain vaccine for the number of people who need it. This can cause a vaccine shortages.
You can prevent getting and spreading H1N1 by practicing good care.
- Cover your nose and mouth with a tissue when you cough or sneeze.
- If you don’t have a tissue, cough or sneeze into your elbow, not your hands.
- Put used tissues in the trash.
- Wash your hands often with soap and water or use an alcohol-based hand sanitizer.
- Avoid touching your eyes, nose, or mouth.
- Avoid people who are sick.
- Wear a mask if you’re traveling or around large groups of people.
- Don’t share personal items, such as makeup, utensils, or sports or office equipment.
- If you get sick, stay home from work or school. Avoid being around people. Stay home for at least 24 hours after your fever breaks.
H1N1 influenza treatment
Your doctor may prescribe an antiviral medicine to treat H1N1. This helps kill the virus so you can recover and aren’t contagious. If you have a fever, you can take medicine to reduce it. This includes acetaminophen (brand name: Tylenol), ibuprofen (brand names: Advil or Motrin), or naproxen (brand name: Aleve). These drugs also relieve aches and pains. Don’t give aspirin to children or teenagers 18 years of age or younger because of the risk of Reye’s syndrome. Reye’s syndrome is a serious illness that can lead to death. You also should drink fluids to stay hydrated and get plenty of rest. Rest helps your body fight infection.
Your doctor may prescribe an anti-viral drug, such as oseltamivir or zanamivir. Anti-viral drugs decrease the flu virus’ ability to reproduce. They can shorten the time you’re sick, reduce your symptoms, and prevent problems caused by the flu. Anti-viral drugs work best if you start taking them when your symptoms begin. This form of treatment is more common if you’re at high risk of flu complications. This includes:
- Pregnant women.
- Children and young adults between 6 months and 24 years of age.
- Adults who are 65 years of age or older.
- People who have a severe illness or are in the hospital.
- People who have weak immune systems or chronic health problems, such as asthma or heart disease.
Living with H1N1 influenza
Most people can fight off and get rid of H1N1 on their own. You may need treatment or close medical care if your symptoms worsen or you’re at risk of having complications.
Questions to ask your doctor
- When and how often should I get the flu vaccine?
- How long do I need to take medicine to treat H1N1?
- Can I get H1N1 more than once?
- Can I spread H1N1 to others?
- When can I return to my normal routine?
- Can I get H1N1 if I work with or raise pigs?
Copyright © American Academy of Family Physicians
This information provides a general overview and may not apply to everyone. Talk to your family doctor to find out if this information applies to you and to get more information on this subject.