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Swine Flu FAQ

What epidemiological investigations are taking place in response to the recent outbreak?

CDC works very closely with state and local officials in areas where human cases of new H1N1 flu infections have been identified. CDC has deployed staff to several states to assist with the investigation of the impact of the novel H1N1 influenza, including the assessment of the severity of illness, how easily the virus spreads, and the amount of time people may be infectious. In states where EpiAid teams have been deployed, many epidemiological activities are taking place or planned including:

  • Active surveillance in the counties where infections in humans have been identified;
  • Studies of health care workers who were exposed to patients infected with the virus to see if they became infected;
  • Studies of households and other contacts of people who were confirmed to have been infected to see if they became infected; and
  • Study to see how long a person with the virus infection sheds the virus.

What is H1N1 (swine) flu?

H1N1 (referred to as “swine flu” early on) is a new influenza virus causing illness in people. This new virus was first detected in people in the United States in April 2009. Other countries, including Mexico and Canada, have reported people sick with this new virus. This virus is spreading from person-to-person, probably in much the same way that regular seasonal influenza viruses spread.

 

Why is this new H1N1 virus sometimes called “swine flu”?

This virus was originally referred to as “swine flu” because laboratory testing showed that many of the genes in this new virus were very similar to influenza viruses that normally occur in pigs in North America. But further study has shown that this new virus is very different from what normally circulates in North American pigs. It has two genes from flu viruses that normally circulate in pigs in Europe and Asia and avian genes and human genes. Scientists call this a “quadruple reassortant” virus.

 

How many H1N1 (swine) flu viruses are there?

Like all influenza viruses, swine flu viruses change constantly. Pigs can be infected by avian influenza and human influenza viruses as well as swine influenza viruses. When influenza viruses from different species infect pigs, the viruses can reassort (i.e. swap genes) and new viruses that are a mix of swine, human and/or avian influenza viruses can emerge. Over the years, different variations of swine flu viruses have emerged. At this time, there are four main influenza type A virus subtypes that have been isolated in pigs: H1N1, H1N2, H3N2, and H3N1. However, most of the recently isolated influenza viruses from pigs have been H1N1 viruses.

 

How serious is H1N1 (swine) flu infection?

Like seasonal flu, H1N1 (swine) flu in humans can vary in severity from mild to severe. Between 2005 until January 2009, 12 human cases of swine flu were detected in the U.S. with no deaths occurring. However, swine flu infection can be serious. In September 1988, a previously healthy 32-year-old pregnant woman in Wisconsin was hospitalized for pneumonia after being infected with swine flu and died 8 days later. A swine flu outbreak in Fort Dix, New Jersey occurred in 1976 that caused more than 200 cases with serious illness in several people and one death.

 

How severe is illness associated with this new H1N1 virus?

It’s not known at this time how severe this virus will be in the general population. CDC is studying the medical histories of people who have been infected with this virus to determine whether some people may be at greater risk from infection, serious illness or hospitalization from the virus. In seasonal flu, there are certain people that are at higher risk of serious flu-related complications. This includes people 65 years and older, children younger than five years old, pregnant women, and people of any age with chronic medical conditions. It’s unknown at this time whether certain groups of people are at greater risk of serious flu-related complications from infection with this new virus. CDC also is conducting laboratory studies to see if certain people might have natural immunity to this virus, depending on their age.

 

Is this H1N1 (swine) flu virus contagious?

CDC has determined that this virus is contagious and is spreading from human to human. However, at this time, it not known how easily the virus spreads between people.

 

What are the signs and symptoms of H1N1 (swine) flu in people?

The symptoms of H1N1 (swine) flu in people are similar to the symptoms of regular human flu and include fever, cough, sore throat, body aches, headache, chills and fatigue. Some people have reported diarrhea and vomiting associated with H1N1 (swine) flu. In the past, severe illness (pneumonia and respiratory failure) and deaths have been reported with H1N1 (swine) flu infection in people. Like seasonal flu, H1N1 (swine) flu may cause a worsening of underlying chronic medical conditions.

 

In children emergency warning signs that need urgent medical attention include:

  • Fast breathing or trouble breathing
  • Bluish or gray skin color
  • 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

In adults, emergency warning signs that need urgent medical attention 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

What is the difference between a vaccine and an antiviral?

Vaccines are usually given to prevent infections. Influenza vaccines are made from either pieces of the killed influenza virus or weakened versions of the live virus that will not lead to disease. When vaccinated, the body’s immune system makes antibodies which will fight off infection if exposure to the virus occurs.

Antivirals are drugs that can treat people who have already been infected by a virus.  They also can be used to prevent infection when given before or shortly after exposure and before illness occurs.  A key difference between a vaccine and antiviral drug is that the antiviral drug will prevent infection only when administered within a certain time frame before or after exposure and is effective during the time that the drug is being taken while a vaccine can be given long before exposure to the virus and can provide protection over a long period of time.

 

*cited from: www.pandemicflu.gov

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