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H1N1 (Swine) Flu - Frequently Asked Questions

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General Information

What is H1N1 influenza?

H1N1 influenza, also known as “swine flu,” is a newly-identified flu virus that can spread from people who are infected to others through coughs and sneezes.

What are the symptoms of H1N1 influenza?

The symptoms of H1N1 influenza are similar to seasonal flu: fever, cough, sore throat, body aches, headache, chills and fatigue. Sometimes people also have diarrhea and vomiting.

Is there a vaccine for H1N1 influenza?

Yes. Initial supplies of vaccines will go to those at highest risk for getting severe illness, including:
  • Pregnant women
  • Children and young adults 6 months to 24 years of age 
  • People ages 25-64 years old with chronic health conditions that could make them dangerously ill from the flu (heart disease, diabetes, asthma, or anyone with a lowered immunity)
  • Household members and caregivers of children younger than 6 months in age; and
  • Healthcare workers and emergency medical service providers
Vaccine is expected to be widely available to anyone who wants it after the first several weeks (most likely by mid-November).
For more information see the Vaccine and Antiviral Information page.

Is the H1N1 influenza vaccine safe?

Yes. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) expects the H1N1 influenza vaccine to be as safe as seasonal flu vaccines, which have a very good safety track record. Over the years, hundreds of millions of Americans have safely received seasonal flu vaccines. The H1N1 influenza vaccine was developed using the same processes and testing as seasonal flu vaccines. 

Why will I need separate vaccinations for H1N1 influenza and regular seasonal flu?

The H1N1 influenza strain started circulating after the current seasonal flu shot had already been manufactured. Had the H1N1 influenza strain emerged earlier, it would’ve been covered in the seasonal flu shot. This flu season, however, you will need separate vaccinations to protect from H1N1 and seasonal influenza.

Illness and Medical Care

I think I have the flu. What should I do?

  • If you are sick with the flu, you may be ill for a week or longer. Please stay home so you can get better and prevent others from getting ill.  Drink plenty of fluids and rest as much as possible. Avoid travel.  Do not go to work or school until at least 24 hours after your fever is gone. (Your fever should be gone without the use of fever-reducing medicine.)    
  • Only go out if you need medical care or other important supplies.  If you leave the house to seek medical care, wear a facemask.
  • Wash your hands frequently with warm water and soap or use a hand sanitizer.   
  • Cover your coughs and sneezes with a tissue or the sleeve of your elbow.   
  • In general, avoid contact with other people as much as possible to keep from spreading your illness, especially those with one of the high-risk chronic conditions listed below.

Does everyone who is sick with the flu need to see a health care provider? 

Most children and adults who are sick with the flu and are generally in good health will recover without needing to visit a health care provider. Some people may want to call their health care provider for advice about how to care for the flu at home.

Who should call or visit a health care provider?

  • Children and adults who are ill and at higher risk for more severe illness (see below)
  • Children and adults with more severe flu symptoms should call their health care provider or go to an urgent care clinic or emergency department if they cannot reach their health care provider.
Whenever possible, call your health care provider to get advice before making an appointment. Use the same judgment you would use during a typical flu season. Do not seek medical care if you are not ill or have mild symptoms for which you would not ordinarily seek medical care.
Please do not go to an emergency department unless you have severe symptoms or a chronic condition that makes you at higher risk for flu complications. 
If the following flu-like symptoms are mild, medical attention is not typically required.
  • Runny nose or nasal stuffiness
  • Low-grade fever for less than 3 days
  • Mild headache
  • Body aches
  • Mild stomach upset

I think I have the flu. Should I get tested or get prescription medication for H1N1 influenza or seasonal flu?

Testing and treatment is not needed or recommended for most children and adults who get the flu. Prescription antiviral medication (such as Tamiflu) is not currently recommended except for people with the flu who have severe illness or are at higher risk for complications (see below).

Who is at increased risk for more severe illness from influenza?

  • Children younger than five years old – particularly children younger than 2 years old, for whom the risk for severe health problems from seasonal influenza is highest. 
  • Adults 65 years of age or older 
  • Pregnant women 
  • People with the following medical conditions:
    • chronic diseases of the lung (including asthma), heart (except hypertension), kidney, liver, blood (including sickle cell disease), brain or nervous system, muscles (particularly those that cause difficulty with swallowing), or metabolism (including diabetes mellitus);
    • a weakened immune system, including caused by medications or by HIV; or
    • people 19 years old or younger who are receiving long-term aspirin therapy.

When should I see a medical provider right away? 

If you become ill and experience any of the following warning signs, go to an emergency room or urgent care center.
For children, emergency warning signs include: 
  • Fast breathing or trouble breathing 
  • Bluish or gray skin color (call 911 immediately)
  • 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 
For adults, emergency warning signs include: 
  • Difficulty breathing or shortness of breath 
  • Pain or pressure in the chest or abdomen 
  • Sudden dizziness 
  • Confusion 
  • Severe or persistent vomiting 
  • Flu-like symptoms improve but then return with fever and worse cough 

Health Protection Tips 

How can I protect myself and my family?

  • Stay informed. Public Health provides frequent updates to our website as soon as it becomes available: www.sccphd.gov
  • Take these everyday steps to protect your health:
    • Cover your nose and mouth with a tissue or your sleeve when you cough or sneeze. 
    • Wash your hands often with soap and water, especially after you cough or sneeze. Alcohol-based hand sanitizers are also effective.
    • Avoid touching your eyes, nose or mouth. Germs spread this way.
    • Try to avoid close contact with sick people.
    • Get plenty of sleep.
    • Be physically active.
    • Manage your stress.
    • Drink plenty of fluids, and eat nutritious food.
  • Get your seasonal flu vaccine. Seasonal flu vaccine is available now in Santa Clara County.  Public Health recommends that people in high risk groups and anyone who wants it get seasonal influenza vaccine so that they are protected. (Note that the seasonal flu vaccine does not protect against H1N1 influenza.)
  • Get a H1N1 influenza vaccine. The H1N1 vaccine is different from the vaccine for regular seasonal flu. The vaccine will be given first to those at highest risk for severe illness (see above), as well as health care workers and first responders. The H1N1 vaccine will be distributed using the existing networks of healthcare agencies, Public Health clinics, private providers and pharmacies.
  • Plan at home. Store medical and health supplies, such as cough syrup, soap, and pain relief medicines.  Also, it is helpful to plan ahead and to network with other families about child care and other arrangements if children are sick with flu or schools or childcare centers are closed.  

Should I wear a mask?

Facemasks (surgical masks) may prevent the wearer from coughing on others, and may protect the nose and mouth of the wearer from contact with other people's coughs. They do not offer complete protection because they do not fit tightly to the face, allowing very small air particles to leak in around the edge of the mask.
Public Health does not recommend the use of masks except for the following people:
  • Sick people if they must be near others at home, or if they must leave the home (such as for an appointment with a health care provider).
  • Caregivers of people ill with influenza when the caregiver leaves the home. This is to prevent spreading flu to others in case the caregiver is in the early stages of infection.
Whenever possible, do not rely on the use of facemasks or respirators alone to provide respiratory protection against influenza infection. The best way to prevent exposure to influenza is to avoid contact with ill people. Other steps include avoiding crowded settings and washing your hands frequently.
If you use a facemask:
  • Change masks when they become moist
  • Do not leave masks dangling around the neck
  • Throw away used masks
  • After touching or throwing away a used mask, wash hands or use alcohol sanitizer

Can I go to large gatherings, like concerts and sports events?

To date, the severity of the H1N1 influenza outbreak appears to similar to a regular winter flu season. Make decisions about going to large gatherings as you would during a winter flu outbreak. If you want to do everything you can to avoid catching H1N1 influenza, then avoid large gatherings. It is especially important not to participate in group gatherings if you are ill or have symptoms of influenza.

About H1N1 Influenza (Swine Flu)

How does H1N1 influenza spread?

H1N1 influenza appears to be spreading in the same way that seasonal flu spreads. Flu viruses mostly spread from one person to another by the coughing or sneezing of an infected person. Sometimes people get infected by touching something with flu viruses on it and then touching their mouth or nose.

How does someone with the flu infect someone else?

Influenza spreads person-to-person mainly through coughing or sneezing of infected people. Infected people may infect others beginning at least one day before symptoms develop and up to seven or more days after becoming sick. You can pass on the flu to someone else before you know you are sick, as well as while you are sick.

How long can an infected person spread H1N1 influenza (swine flu) to others?

People with swine flu should be considered potentially contagious as long as they are symptomatic and possibly for up to seven days after the start of getting sick. Children, especially younger children, might potentially be contagious for longer periods. Sick people are most contagious while they have a fever and during the 24-hour period after the fever is gone. 

Is it safe to eat pork and pork products?

Yes. Swine influenza has not been shown to be transmissible to people through eating thoroughly cooked pork or other products derived from pigs.

For More Information

  • Santa Clara County Public Health Department website: www.sccphd.org
  • Flu Hotline: 408-885-3980, TTY relay: 711 (English, Spanish, and Vietnamese)
  • Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) website: www.cdc.gov/h1n1flu
Updated: 9/29/2009