H1N1 flu is a viral infection caused by a virus of the same name. Also called swine flu because the virus is found in the respiratory tract of pigs, H1N1 flu is highly contagious and can spread easily from one infected person to another. In the recent past, the H1N1 virus spread across continents causing a global pandemic in a few months. Currently, health officials advise everyone to get the seasonal flu vaccination as the H1N1 vaccine is included in it.
Rapid flu tests are used to test for the two types of influenza, but they are not specific for H1N1 flu. Accuracy of these medical tests is also debatable. Moreover, H1N1 is diagnosed based more on the symptoms than on the result of tests, and patients with normal flu-like symptoms are advised to take plenty of fluids and rest until the fever subsides. Only high risk patients and those with compromised immune systems are hospitalized and treated. H1N1 flu tests can be performed only in specialized laboratories, and the results may take several days to be released. These tests are reserved only for those who are hospitalized with very severe symptoms.
Although contact with infected pigs was the initial cause for humans catching the virus, H1N1 spreads from one infected person to others through close contact in enclosed spaces. The virus is transferred to others when the infected person coughs or sneezes and droplets of the bodily fluids carrying the virus are inhaled by those around. The infection may also be spread by touching surfaces contaminated by the virus, such as door knobs, sinks, telephones, and so on since the virus remains active up to two hours on these surfaces. Regardless of the H1N1 flu causes, it is important to make basic hygiene practices like washing hands with soap and water and covering the face with a tissue while coughing or sneezing, a part of one's daily routine. Covering the face with a mask while going out is important if you have symptoms of the flu, so that it virus is not spread to others. Children with H1N1 flu remain contagious as long as the symptoms persist, and it is best to keep them home until they are fully recovered.
H1N1 flu symptoms are similar to those that manifest in regular human influenza patients; these include fever, scratchy throat, bouts of coughing, a runny nose, body pain, fatigue, headaches, and chills. Unlike in the case of the regular flu, in swine flu patients, diarrhea, vomiting, and breathing difficulties are more commonly reported. Infants with swine flu are unable to eat or drink and often appear irritable. Breathing may be fast and hard, and the skin tone may be grayish. Adults with H1N1 flu may feel dizzy or complain of pain in their chest or in the abdomen.
H1N1 flu treatment should be started as early as possible since the patients may go into respiratory failure after a couple of days of the onset of the symptoms. High fevers should be controlled with adequate medication to prevent seizures. Though there is no cure for the virus, antiviral agents can help reduce the severity of the symptoms and prevent secondary infections such as bronchitis and pneumonia. Adequate rest and plenty of fluids ensure that the body's immune system is strengthened so that it can deal with the infection. Those patients with severe respiratory distress and difficulty in breathing may require a ventilator. Senior citizens, pregnant women, infants, and those with chronic illnesses form a high risk group, and they need to start treatment within 48 hours of the onset of the flu symptoms.