How do I know if I have H1N1 flu virus?

Most patients with H1N1 flu virus present with acute respiratory illness. The main presenting symptoms are cough or fever. With this you may have sore throat, headache, eye pain or muscle ache. Just like a human seasonal flu. H1N1 flu virus is a strain of the influenza virus that usually affects pigs but which may also make people sick.

In a review of cases published in the Canadian Medical Association Journal (CMAJ) of August 4, cough was reported in 90 per cent of cases and fever in 60 per cent of cases. The other common symptoms like headache was present in 83 per cent and 76 per cent had nasal congestion and sore throat.

As we know by now, the outbreak of this virus began in Mexico in March 2009. It has only been six months and over 100 countries have reported thousands of confirmed cases and many hundreds have died from this illness. The illness is spreading like a regular seasonal flu. Except this is happening in summer months. The World Health Organization has declared this to be a pandemic flu. That means the disease is prevalent throughout an entire country, continent or the whole world.

During a regular season flu, 4000 Canadians die each year. H1N1 virus flu is expected to cause thousands of deaths if it spreads like a wild fire. Some research on the Internet reveals that the influenza pandemic of 1918-1919 killed more people than the Great War, known today as World War I (WWI), at somewhere between 20 and 40 million people. It has been cited as the most devastating epidemic in recorded world history.

Every person is susceptible to this virus. People with low immunity and chronic disease are more susceptible. As a group, children are two to three times more likely than adults to be infected by any flu virus each year. It is also interesting to note that children carry more live viruses in their respiratory secretions than adults do and for twice as long. When children catch the flu they readily pass it over to their families and communities — perhaps because they aren’t always careful about covering their noses and mouths when coughing or sneezing.

Pregnant women are no more likely to get the flu, but are prone to greater risk than general population for developing complications from it. Pregnant women are four times more likely than the general population to need hospital treatment for H1N1 swine flu. The risk is higher in the second half of the pregnancy.

How do I protect myself against H1N1 flu virus? The Public Health Agency advises Canadians to:
-Wash hands thoroughly with soap and warm water or use hand sanitizer
-Cough and sneeze in your arm or sleeve
-Keep doing what you normally do, but stay home if sick
-Check www.fightflu.ca for more information
-Check www.voyage.gc.ca for travel notices and advisories
-Talk to a health professional if you experience severe flu-like symptoms

H1N1 virus flu is treatable. There two prescription antiviral drugs, oseltamivir (Tamiflu) and zanamivir (Relenza) that are effective in treating the flu virus. Public Health Agency of Canada (PHAC) recommends that antivirals be used to treat H1N1 flu virus when the illness is moderate to severe and the patient is at a great risk for complications.

PHAC also says that it is unlikely the seasonal flu shot will provide protection against H1N1 flu virus. A new pandemic vaccine will be available to all Canadians who need and want to receive it.

NEW: November 3, 2009:
Ten Reasons Why I Had H1N1 Vaccine

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