What is swine flu?
Swine flu, also known as 2009 H1N1 type A influenza, is a human disease. People get the disease from other people, not from pigs.
The disease originally was nicknamed swine flu because the virus that causes the disease originally jumped to humans from the live pigs in which it evolved. Scientists are still arguing about what the virus should be called, but most people know it as the H1N1 swine flu virus.
The swine flu viruses that usually spread among pigs aren’t the same as human flu viruses. Swine flu doesn’t often infect people, and the rare human cases that have occurred in the past have mainly affected people who had direct contact with pigs. But the current “swine flu” outbreak is different. It’s caused by a new swine flu virus that has changed in ways that allow it to spread from person to person — among people who haven’t had any contact with pigs.
That makes it a human flu virus.
Many people have at least partial immunity to seasonal H1N1 viruses because they’ve been infected with or vaccinated against this flu bug. These viruses “drift” genetically, which is why the flu vaccine has to be tweaked from time to time.
What are swine flu symptoms?
Symptoms of H1N1 swine flu are like regular flu symptoms and include fever, cough, sore throat, runny nose, body aches, headache, chills, and fatigue. Many people with swine flu have had diarrhea and vomiting. But these symptoms can also be caused by many other conditions. That means that you and your doctor can’t know, just based on your symptoms, if you’ve got swine flu.
Only lab tests can definitively show whether you’ve got swine flu. State health departments can do these tests. During the peak of the pandemic, these tests were reserved for patients with severe flu symptoms.
If I think I have swine flu, what should I do? When should I see my doctor?
If you have flu symptoms, stay home, and when you cough or sneeze, cover your mouth and nose with a tissue. Afterward, throw the tissue in the trash and wash your hands. That will help prevent your flu from spreading. If you can do it comfortably, wear a surgical mask if you must be around others.
If you have only mild flu symptoms, you do not need medical attention unless your illness gets worse. But if you are in one of the groups at high risk of severe disease, contact your doctor at the first sign of flu-like illness. In such cases, the CDC recommends that people call or email their doctor before rushing to an emergency room.
But heed these signs of a medical emergency:
Children should be given urgent medical attention if they:
·Have fast breathing or trouble breathing
·Have bluish or gray skin color
·Are not drinking enough fluid
·Are not waking up or not interacting
·Have severe or persistent vomiting
·Are so irritable that the child does not want to be held
·Have flu-like symptoms that improve but then return with fever and a worse cough
·Have fever with a rash
·Have a fever and then have a seizure or sudden mental or behavioral change.
Adults should seek urgent medical attention if they have:
·Difficulty breathing or shortness of breath
·Pain or pressure in the chest or abdomen
·Severe or persistent vomiting
·Flu-like symptoms that improve, but then come back with worsening fever or cough
Should I wear a face mask or respirator?
Short answer: Maybe. Face masks and respirators may very well offer extra protection, but should not be your first line of defense against either pandemic or seasonal flu.
Every day, newspapers carry pictures of people wearing face masks to prevent swine flu transmission. But very little is known about whether face masks actually protect against the flu.
If I am infected, how can I stop others from becoming infected?
·Limit your contact with other people
·Do not go to work or school
·When you cough or sneeze cover your mouth with a tissue. If you do not have a tissue, cover your mouth and nose.
·Put your used tissues in a waste basket
·Wash your hands and face regularly
·Keep all surfaces you have touched clean
·Follow your doctor’s instructions