We all remember last spring when we first heard of the terrifying Swine Flu (H1N1). The news came in March and the media loved it. They spoke of how this could cause death on a scale not seen since the 1918 influenza epidemic. Since then there have been between 8,330 and 17,160 deaths from H1N1 in the U.S., little compared to 20 to 100 million people who died from the 1918 flu epidemic.
CDC Estimates of 2009 H1N1 Cases and Related Hospitalizations and Deaths from April 2009 – January 16, 2010, By Age Group
|2009 H1N1||Mid-Level Range*||Estimated Range *|
|0-17 years||~19 million||~13 million to ~27 million|
|18-64 years||~33 million||~24 million to ~49 million|
|65 years and older||~5 million||~4 million to ~8 million|
|Cases Total||~57 million||~41 million to ~84 million|
|0-17 years||~82,000||~58,000 to ~120,000|
|18-64 years||~150,000||~107,000 to ~221,000|
|65 years and older||~25,000||~18,000 to ~37,000|
|Hospitalizations Total||~257,000||~183,000 to ~378,000|
|0-17 years||~1,230||~880 to ~1,810|
|18-64 years||~8,980||~6,390 to ~13, 170|
|65 years and older||~1,480||~1,060 to ~2,180|
|Deaths Total||~11,690||~8,330 to ~17,160|
* Deaths have been rounded to the nearest ten. Hospitalizations have been rounded to the nearest thousand and cases have been rounded to the nearest million. Exact numbers also are available.
Although commonly referred to as Swine Flu, the H1N1 virus is a mix of Swine Flu, Avian Flu, and Human Flu. It is called Swine Flu because early studies showed that it was similar to an influenza in pigs. In fact, it is made from flu genes from pigs in Europe and Asia, birds, and humans. On October 24, 2009 President Obama declared the H1N1 virus a national emergency.
H1N1 affects almost the same population as the seasonal flu; the very old, the very young, the pregnant, and the sick. But H1N1 is more prone to infect teenagers, young adults and pregnant women than is the seasonal flu, possibly because these younger groups do not have immunity as they were not exposed to previous influenza outbreaks. The H1N1 virus spreads the same way as the seasonal flu, through coughing, sneezing, or touching an area with the virus then touching one’s mouth or nose. Once someone is infected with the H1N1 virus he or she is unlikely to contract it again (Although someone with a weak immune system may not be able to become completely immune to the virus).
The symptoms of the H1N1 virus are fever, cough, sore throat, vomiting, diarrhea, runny or stuffy nose, body aches, headache, chills, fatigue and respiratory problems. People can spread the virus from a day before one gets sick to 5-7 days after getting sick.
The CDC says if someone is exhibiting the following symptoms he or she needs medical care immediately.
- Fast breathing or trouble breathing
- Bluish skin color
- Not drinking enough fluids
- Not waking up or not interacting
- Being so irritable that the child does not want to be held
- Flu-like symptoms improve but then return with fever and worse cough
- Fever with a rash
- Difficulty breathing or shortness of breath
- Pain or pressure in the chest or abdomen
- Sudden dizziness
- Severe or persistent vomiting
Dr. Bresee talks of ways to protect yourself including the H1N1 vaccine, hygiene, and antivirals if already sick.
To stay healthy and safe people should follow these everyday guidelines. Cover your nose and your mouth when you sneeze or cough with a tissue, after it is used throw it away. Always wash your hands with soap, water or an alcohol based hand-cleaner. Do not touch your nose, mouth, or eyes. Avoid contact with sick people.
The H1N1 vaccination has probably caused the most controversy around Swine Flu. Many fear that the vaccination is unsafe and worry that it won’t work. Three recent studies have proven that the vaccination is safe and protective. The studies are shown below.
(Greenberg ME, Lai MH, Hartel GF et al. Response to a monovalent 2009 influenza A (H1N1) vaccine. New Engl J of Med, 2009; 361: 2405-13; Zhu FC, Wang H, Fang HH, et al. A novel influenza A (H1N1) vaccine in various age groups. New Engl J of Med, 2009; 361: 2414-23; Clark TW, Pareek M, Hoschler K et al. Trial of 2009 influenza A (H1N1) monovalent MF59-adjuvanted vaccine. New Engl J Med, 2009; 361: 2424-35.).
Getting the swine flu vaccination is the best way to protect yourself. The harm swine flu could cause is much greater than the harm that the vaccine could.
Contrary to popular belief you cannot get swine flu from eating properly prepared pork, but you can get it from contact with pigs infected with H1N1. Pigs do carry the H1N1 virus, even a pig at the Minnesota state fair was infected with the H1N1 virus.
Will the current H1N1 vaccine be effective against next year’s flu virus? Are there medications you can take if you already have the H1N1 virus? Is the threat of the pandemic over, or can the H1N1 virus continue to infect the population?