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Diseases A–Z

H1N1 flu (swine flu)

This page talks about H1N1 flu (swine flu), symptoms, warning signs, and treatment. It tells what to do if you think you have H1N1 flu.

2010 Update: On August 10th, 2010 the World Health Organization declared the H1N1 pandemic over and we are moving into a post-pandemic period. The seasonal flu will always be with us and it is important to get your annual flu shoti.

What is H1N1 flu (swine flu)?

H1N1 flu is a new kind of flu in humans. It's caused by a contagious virus. H1N1 flu infects the breathing tubes in your nose, throat, and lungs.

H1N1 flu has many names: it's also called swine flu, human swine flu, and influenza A H1N1.

What are the symptoms of H1N1 flu (swine flu)?

H1N1 flu symptoms are similar to regular seasonal flu symptoms:

  • fever
  • cough
  • sore throat
  • body aches
  • headache
  • chills
  • no appetite (donít feel hungry)
  • nausea, vomiting (throwing up) or diarrhea
  • runny nose

These symptoms usually come on quickly.

Warning signs of severe flu in children – get emergency help if kids show one or more of these signs
  • fast breathing or trouble breathing
  • skin is bluish or grey
  • blue or grey lips
  • not drinking enough fluids, hasn't peed (passed urine) in many hours, or no tears when she cries
  • lots of vomiting (throwing up)
  • not waking up, not paying attention to anything
  • cranky, doesn't want to be held
  • seizures
  • childís flu symptoms improve but then come back; she has a fever and her cough is worse
Warning signs of severe flu in adults – get emergency help right away if you have one or more of these signs
  • it's hard to breathe, you're short of breath
  • blue or grey lips
  • pain or pressure in your chest or stomach
  • suddenly dizzy
  • confused
  • dehydrated, not peeing (no urine)
  • lots of vomiting (throwing up)
  • seizures
  • your flu symptoms improve but then come back; your cough is worse and you have a fever.
What should I do if I think I have H1N1 flu (swine flu)?

If you have mild flu symptoms, take care of yourself at home as you normally would. Follow these steps to take care of yourself at home. Call your doctor or health-care provider if you're not better feeling better after 2 days. They'll decide if you can take care of yourself at home, or if you need to see a doctor or come to the hospital. If you have these severe flu symptoms go to the emergency department right away or call 911 or your local emergency number.

If you have asthma, COPD or another flu risk factor and you get flu symptoms, call your doctor right away. Don't wait. Your doctor will decide if you need to take flu medicine (an anti-viral called Tamiflu®). Read more advice on H1N1 flu for people with asthma, COPD, and other lung diseases.

Whatís the treatment for mild or moderate H1N1 flu (swine flu)?

For people with mild cases of H1N1 flu, doctors probably won't give any prescription medicine. The treatment is just to stay home, stay away from other people, and take care of yourself. Mild H1N1 flu may go away on its own after a week or two.

If you have mild or moderate H1N1 flu (swine flu) symptoms, here's how to take care of yourself at home:
  • Stay home. Don't leave your home unless you need emergency help. Stay home for 7 days after your symptoms begin or until you have been symptom-free for 24 hours, whichever is longer.
  • Rest. Get lots of sleep.
  • Stay away from other people in your home. If possible, stay in a seperate room by yourself, and use a seperate bathroom. Wash your hands, clean common areas, and take these other steps to avoid spreading your H1N1 flu germs.
  • Drink lots of fluids:
    • water
    • broth
    • for adults and teens: sport drinks (for example, Gatorade©)
    • for kids: electrolyte drinks (for example, Pedialyte©)
    • for babies: continue breastfeeding, and give electrolyte drinks (for example, Pedialyte©)
  • For your headache, muscles aches, and fever, you can take over-the-counter medicines like acetaminophen (for example, Tylenol©) or ibuprofen (for example, Advil©). Children and teens should not take aspirin (ASA or acetylsalicylic acid). If you're not sure what to take, call a pharmacist.
  • Follow your doctor's advice about antiviral medicines (antivirals). There are two prescription medicines that can treat H1N1 flu (swine flu): oseltamivir (brand name Tamiflu©) and zanamivir (brand name Relenza©).(See footnote about Tamiflu©*)

    Doctors do not give antiviral medicine to everyone who has H1N1 flu (swine flu). Most people with flu H1N1 get better on their own, and donít need antiviral medicine. Your doctor may give you an antiviral medicine if have severe symptoms, if you have risk factors for flu, or if you live with many other people (for example, in a nursing home). Your doctor will decide if antivirals are right for you. It's best to start antiviral medicines within the first two days of symptoms.

  • Watch for warning signs of severe H1N1 flu. If you have these warning signs, get emergency help right away.
  • Watch other people in your home carefully, and call the doctor or healthcare provider if they show symptoms of H1N1 flu.
  • Call your doctor again if you are not improving after a few days.

Read detailed advice on how to take care of a person with flu H1N1 (swine flu) at home, from the US Centres for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC).

What can I expect if I go to the hospital with H1N1 flu (swine flu) symptoms?

If you go to the emergency room with flu symptoms:

  • You may be separated from other patients.
  • You may be asked to wear a mask, so you donít spread germs to others.
  • The staff looking after you may wear masks.
  • If you have asthma or COPD, tell the staff. This will help them choose the right treatment for you.
  • Doctors may give you tests to understand whatís wrong with you (your diagnosis). They may:
    • test your blood
    • give you a chest x-ray
    • swab your nose and throat. They can test the mucus in your nose and throat to see what kind of virus you might have.
  • If you have severe H1N1 flu, doctors will give you this treatment:
Whatís the treatment for severe H1N1 flu (swine flu)?

This is the treatment you may get if youíre in the hospital with severe H1N1 flu (swine flu):

  • If you are dehydrated (your body is low on water), nurses will give you IV fluids. IV fluid (intravenous fluid) is a mixture of water and salts. The nurse will put a tube into a vein on your arm or hand. The IV fluid will go through the tube into your bloodstream.
  • If your oxygen level is low, doctors will give you extra oxygen. You breathe the extra oxygen through a mask.
  • If you have a fever, doctors will give you medicine to lower it.
  • If you have a bacterial infection, doctors will give you antibiotics. Some people get a bacterial infection after they catch H1N1 flu.
  • Doctors may give other treatments, depending on what you need.
Who is most at risk from H1N1 flu? Who is most likely to get H1N1 flu complications?

Most people who catch H1N1 flu can take care of themselves at home; they will get better on their own in about two weeks. But some people get so sick from HN1 flu that they need to be treated in hospital. Some die from H1N1 flu.

These groups of people are more at risk for getting seriously sick from H1N1 flu. They are more likely to get flu complications like pneumonia, bronchitis, sinus infections and ear infections. If they have long-term (chronic) diseases, the flu can make their disease symptoms worse:

  • children younger than 5 (especially children younger than 2 years old)
  • adults 65 years of age and older (Seniors are less likely to catch H1N1 flu, but if they do catch it, they are more likely to get complications)
  • pregnant women
  • people with long-term medical conditions, including:
    • asthma
    • COPD (chronic bronchitis and emphysema), cystic fibrosis, and other long-term lung diseases
    • neurological and neurodevelopmental conditions (including epilepsy, cerebral palsy, stroke, intellectual disability, moderate to severe developmental delay, muscular dystrophy, or spinal cord injury).
    • heart disease
    • blood disorders (including sickle cell disease)
    • diabetes and other endocrine disorders
    • kidney disorders
    • liver disorders
    • metabolic disorders (including inherited metabolic disorders and mitochondrial disorders)
    • weakened immune system because of disease (including HIV, AIDS and cancer) or because of medication (for example, taking steroids pills for a long time)

There is some evidence that people who smoke and people who are obese are also more likely to get seriously sick from H1N1 flu.

Learn more about H1N1 flu from The Lung Association
Information on H1N1 flu from other sources

*Note about Tamiflu©: there have been a very few cases where Tamiflu© did not work against H1N1 flu.

i  1. World Health Organization, Influenza updates, September 10, 2010

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