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The H1N1 Virus - Questions and Answers


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The common influenza virus is infamous for its capacity to mutate and evolve into new strains that can evade the immune defence systems of its victims. The H1N1 virus - more commonly known as "swine flu" - because of the genes in the virus that are the same as that of influenza viruses normally found in swine, has very similar simptoms as pandemic or seasonal influenza. So how do you know you've caught "swine flu"?  

In the following article Professor Wolgang Preizer, an infectious disease specialist and virologist, gives detailed answers to questions about the H1N1 Virus. Browse the links provided for more information on the city of Cape Town or visit CBN for other business related articles.

Questions and Answers about H1N1 (Swine Flu)
By:Professor Wolgang Preizer

What are the typical symptoms of swine flu?

These are the same for pandemic and seasonal influenza. Typical symptoms include a sudden onset of high fever,cough, runny or stuffy nose, sore throat, headache, body aches, chills, tiredness, and lack of appetite. Some ofthose affected have reported nausea, vomiting, and diarrhea.

What should I do if I have any of the above-mentioned symptoms?
If mild do the followng:

    * Children and adults who are sick should stay at home for 7 days after your symptoms begin or until you have been symptom-free for 24 hours, whichever is longer.
    * Drink clear fluids (such as water, broth, sports drinks, electrolyte beverages for infants) to keep from being dehydrated.
    * Throw away tissues and other disposable items used by the sick person in the trash. Wash your hands after touching used tissues and similar waste.
    * Have everyone in the household wash hands often with soap and water, especially after coughing or sneezing. Alcohol-based hand cleaners are also effective.
    * Avoid touching your eyes, nose and mouth. Germs spread this way.
    * A person who is sick should recover in his or her own room as far as possible.
    * If someone in your home is sick, as far as possible keep the person away from those who are not sick
    * If a household member needs to come into the room keep at least an arms length away (1 to 2 meters) and do not sit on the bed.

Take medications as prescribed:

    * Take medications for symptom relief as needed for fever and pain such as paracetamol or ibuprofen.These medicines do not need to be taken regularly if your symptoms improve.
    * Do not give aspirin (acetylsalicylic acid) or products that contain aspirin to children or teenagers 18 years old or younger.
    * Children younger than 4 years of age should not be given over-the-counter cold medications without firstspeaking with a health care provider.
    * Should you be prescribed antiviral medication take it as directed (where applicable - see "Can I treat swine flu with flu medication" below).
    * Continue to cover your cough and wash your hands often (even when taking antiviral medications), to prevent spreading influenza to others.
    * Call the clinic/GP if you (or your child) experience any side effects; i.e. nausea, vomiting, rash, or unusual behaviour.

When to seek emergency care:

    * Fast breathing or trouble breathing
    * Bluish or grey skin colour
    * Not drinking enough fluids
    * Severe or persistent vomiting
    * 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

Worldwide, the majority of patients infected with the pandemic virus continue to experience mild symptoms and recover fully within a week, even in the absence of any medical treatment. Monitoring of viruses from multiple outbreaks has detected no evidence of change in the ability of the virus to spread or to cause severe illness. Groups at increased risk of severe or fatal illness include people with underlying medical conditions, most notably chronic lung disease (including asthma), cardiovascular disease, diabetes, and immunosuppression. Some preliminary studies suggest that obesity, and especially extreme obesity, may be a risk factor for more severe disease.

What is the difference between swine flu and 'normal' influenza?

The pandemic A(H1N1) influenza (flu) virus (germ) is a new member of the influenza virus family. Differentinfluenza viruses cause the annual seasonal (winter) flu and, every few decades, a global pandemic Influenza viruses infect birds and mammals and are usually species specific. Occasionally viruses cross overfrom one species to another. The pandemic A(H1N1) virus seems to have originated in pigs; however it is not spreading in pigs or from pigs to humans but only between human beings. More people die annually of other causes such road accidents, TB, AIDS, etc. In contrast, during pandemic influenza many of the deaths occur in younger and apparently healthy individuals. The number of deaths during an influenza pandemic varies greatly, depending mostly on the virulence of the virus, but also onfactors like crowding, individual health, access to health care, and preventive measures.

Are there any dangers for pregnant women?

Yes - Evidence from previous pandemics further supports the conclusion that pregnant women are at heightened risk. While pregnant women are also at increased risk during epidemics of seasonal influenza, the risk takes on added importance in the current pandemic, which continues to affect a younger age group than that seen during seasonal epidemics. While treatment within 48 hours of symptom onset brings the greatest benefits, later initiation of treatment may also be beneficial.

Can I treat swine flu with flu medication?

Yes, where one has mild symptoms.

Can I use over-the-counter pharmacy meds or antibiotics?

Yes, but anti-biotics can only be prescribed by a doctor.

How do I know when a case becomes 'moderate to severe'?

    * Fast breathing or trouble breathing
    * Bluish or grey skin colour
    * Not drinking enough fluids
    * Severe or persistent vomiting
    * 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

Can ordinary flu turn into swine flu?


If a child sneezes at a school which my children frequents, must I still send them to school or can I keep them at home?

A sick child should stay at home and healthy children should be in school. Also make your child aware of what to do if someone coughs or sneezes...stand 2 meters away, teach cough etiquette, good hygiene practices etc.

If a sibling has contracted swine flu, must the other children be kept in isolation?

The sick child must be kept in isolation as far as possible. Try keeping the child in his own space and dont let him share the same bed.

When does the H1N1 virus become infectious?

From the onset of flu like symptoms until 24 hrs after the symptoms have disappeared.

When should you go to the hospital?

    * Fast breathing or trouble breathing
    * Bluish or grey skin colour
    * Not drinking enough fluids
    * Severe or persistent vomiting
    * 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
    * A combination of the above symptoms

Important to note is that for hospital referral the person should have first presented to their nearest local clinic.

Are the symptoms the same or do they differ from person to person?

In the majority of instances they would be the same but the combination of symptoms vary from person to person and because it's a new virus all known symptoms known yet.

In children, is recovery the same in all kids or does it differ from person to person and is this dependent on one's immune system?

Recovery and duration for recovery differ from person to person depending on the strength of their immune systems.

Date Posted: 2009-08-21
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