Getting The Facts Straight On Swine Flu (H1N1 Virus)

Community Member

While you may have been inundated with news about swine flu (H1N1 virus), you may not have gotten all the right information. Here are the important facts you need to know about swine flu this season.

This summer, health news was dominated by information on the H1N1 flu virus. And just like a child's game of "telephone," the facts about the disease got mixed up by the time they'd traveled person to person.

So we've put together a list of the most important swine flu facts and myths, as well as information on what you can do to keep you and your family healthy this cold and flu season.

How many people have been affected? According to the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), there have been 556 deaths from H1N1 as of late August, and 8,843 patients hospitalized because of the disease. More importantly, the CDC has found that the rates of hospitalization of H1N1 patients are similar to the number of people hospitalized for the seasonal flu every year.

What about the number of people predicted to get it? Some health organizations believe there may be anywhere from 30,000 to 90,000 deaths from swine flu this year, and though those numbers can raise concerns, experts say people should be aware that 40,000 die annually from the typical seasonal flu. The numbers aren't very different, and while there is every reason to be cautious and take your health seriously, experts agree that there is no reason to panic.

Who is affected? One of the reasons people are concerned about H1N1 is because it appears to be worse in young people. According to the CDC, 42 children have died from swine flu. Ordinarily, the seasonal flu causes death mainly in very ill people and the elderly, but children and pregnant women appear to be at greater risk than normal with this swine flu strain.

The flu virus affects the upper and lower airways, which means that people who suffer from respiratory diseases such as asthma and COPD are also at higher risk, as are people under the age of 19 who have been on long-term aspirin therapy, and diabetics. Of the children who died, many of them had underlying diseases, such as lung disease, and one had leukemia.

Just like with the seasonal flu, people with compromised immune systems -- such as those with HIV, chemotherapy patients, or those who take immune-suppressing drugs -- are more at risk for complications.

But I've heard that swine flu kills healthy people too. Some of the deaths from swine flu have been in apparently healthy, young people. But experts point out that with all illnesses, there are always "healthy" victims. Statistically, young people in crowded school settings are more likely to get the flu, which means that there is greater chance for more cases that become serious.

Experts say it's important to remember that most of the people who contracted the H1N1 flu virus this year had a rough week and then recovered. In fact, the CDC estimates that up to a million Americans may have had swine flu this summer but were never tested because they got better without seeing a doctor.

Should I contact my doctor if I think I have H1N1? Those who are in high-risk categories--such as pregnant women and people with lung diseases or compromised immune systems--should contact their doctor at the first sign of swine flu. However, it may be better to call or email them, since hospitals and doctor's offices are some of the best places to "pick up" the swine flu virus.

For otherwise healthy people, the flu -- any flu -- is miserable at best. But experts say the best way to get on your feet soon is to combine the age-old remedies of rest, fluids, and time.

Why Uncle Sam needs YOU to help prevent swine flu! Federal officials say everyone can do their part to help stop the threat of swine flu this season.

One reason for the caution is that vaccines will not be available until mid-October, and even for those at the highest risk who get vaccinated immediately will likely not be fully protected for several weeks. Until then, U.S. Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) and CDC officials say good hygiene and respect for others will go a long way toward helping keep people healthy.

So, what can you do? You've heard these before, and though they're simple, they're also the easiest ways to keep yourself, your family, and your community members healthy.

  • Wash your hands with soap and water, especially after coughing and sneezing. Alcohol-based hand cleaners are also effective with a concentration of 60% to 95% ethanol or isopropanol, as recommended by the Food and Drug Administration (FDA).
  • Cover your mouth and nose with a tissue or your shirt when you cough or sneeze. You can also sneeze into the crook of your elbow, rather than your hands. Avoid touching your eyes, nose, or mouth; germs are spread this way.
  • Know the signs and symptoms of the flu. Like the seasonal flu, swine flu symptoms include fever (a temperature equal to or greater than 100 degrees Fahrenheit), cough, sore throat, runny nose, body aches, headache, and chills.
  • Stay home if you have flu or flu-like symptoms for at least 24 hours after you no longer have a fever; this should be determined without the use of fever reducing medications.
  • Talk with your health care provider about getting vaccinated. For more information about people that may be at higher risk for complications and priority groups for vaccination, visit the CDC's Flu Vaccination Page.