H1N1 (swine flu)
Influenza A(H1N1) or swine flu is a respiratory disease caused by influenza viruses that infect the respiratory tract of pigs that can be transmitted to humans. Here are answers to common questions about swine flu below:
- What’s the difference between swine flu and "normal" flu?
The A(H1N1) influenza (flu) virus (germ) is a new member of the influenza virus family. The annual seasonal (winter) flu consists of different flu viruses. It’s also important to note that swine flu has been part of our seasonal strain since 2012, and this strain of flu behaves just like any other normal seasonal flu strain.
The clinical presentation, severity and management/treatment of swine flu is the same as for seasonal flu.
- What are the signs and symptoms of influenza?
- Sudden onset of fever.
- Acute upper respiratory symptoms: dry cough, sore throat.
- General symptoms:
- muscle pain and body aches,
- cold shivers, and
- hot sweats.
- Some people may experience vomiting and diarrhoea, though this is more common in children than adults.
- What should I do if I have any of the above-mentioned symptoms?
If symptoms are mild do the following:
- Children and adults who are sick should stay at home for 7 days after your symptoms begin or until you’ve been symptom-free for 24 hours, whichever is longer.
- Drink clear fluids (such as water, broth, sports drinks, electrolyte beverages for infants) to keep hydrated.
- 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.
- Make sure everyone in the household washes their hands regularly with soap and water, especially after coughing or sneezing. Alcohol-based hand sanitisers 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, try to keep the person away from those who aren’t sick.
- If a household member needs to come into the room, at least an arm's length away (1 to 2 metres) and don’t sit on the bed.
- Who’s more at risk of contracting severe influenza?
Every year during the winter months between May and August, South Africa experiences an increase in flu circulation. In the majority of people flu is an uncomplicated illness lasting 3 - 7 days. People at increased risk of developing severe influenza include:
- pregnant women (all stages),
- young children (6-59 months), the elderly (65 years and older), and
- people with certain health conditions, such as
- heart, lung or kidney disease,
- nervous system disorders, or
- a weakened immune system.
Flu vaccination is especially important for these people.
- Where can I get a flu vaccine?
Flu vaccines are available for free at your clinic. Vaccines remain the primary method for preventing seasonal flu infection. Flu viruses are always changing therefore each year’s flu vaccine is made to protect against 3 common strains that are likely to cause illness that specific year.
- How do I treat flu?
Most of the treatment is generic and involves symptom relief unless the individual is very sick or is at risk of developing complications. For uncomplicated cases at low risk then the prevention of further spread and the following measures are advised:
- Bed rest.
- Drink plenty of water and other clear fluids.
- Symptomatic treatment for cough, fever, and nasal congestion.
However, general preventative precautions should be taken - such as hand washing, cough hygiene and avoiding contact with people who are sick should also be considered.
- What are the possible complications?
While most flu strains cause mild illness, complications (particularly pneumonia) are always a concern in persons with underlying conditions or certain risk factors.
- Complications within the chest are usually characterised by shortness of breath at rest or during usually tolerated activity, chest pain, low blood pressure, clinical or X-Ray features of pneumonia and myocarditis.
- Complications involving other organs such as ear infections, sinus infections, encephalitis, severe dehydration, renal failure and multiple organ failure.
- Worsening of underlying conditions such as:
- Chronic Obstructive Pulmonary Disease (COPD),
- renal or liver insufficiency,
- Congestive Cardiac Failure (CCF) and
- other cardiovascular diseases.
If you’re worried about your flu-like symptoms, please contact your family doctor or visit your nearest clinic.