What Is the Swine Flu?
The Swine Flu, also known as H1N1, is a respiratory infection caused by a strain of the influenza virus. It was first recognized in the spring of 2009. This new virus spreads very quickly and easily, which prompted the World Health Organization to declare it a global pandemic.1
Swine Flu Symptoms
The symptoms of swine flu are similar to the symptoms of any other strain of influenza. They include fever, cough, body aches, headache, fatigue, chills, diarrhea and vomiting. Most people develop symptoms between three and five days after exposure, with symptoms continuing for approximately eight days.2
Why Is It Called Swine Flu?
H1N1 is not actually true swine flu, which is an influenza virus common in pigs. It was given this name when early laboratory tests showed it had many similarities to the true swine flu. The name stuck even after researchers found that it wasn’t a condition pigs can catch.3 People cannot catch H1N1 from pigs or through eating pork.
How Swine Flu Spread
The H1N1 virus spreads through human contact. People infected with the virus sneeze or cough and spread the virus into an area. Even simply talking near another person can spread the virus.
It can live on surfaces for an extended amount of time. You can contract the virus when touching your nose or mouth after coming into contact with an infected surface. One reason swine flu seems to infect more people and spread more quickly than other strains of the flu is the fact that few people have existing antibodies for this new strain, unlike other more common strains.4
Is It Serious?
Many people have heard that swine flu is more serious than other forms of influenza. This may not necessarily be true. As with other flu strains, the H1N1 virus may be more serious for people in certain categories. Those with respiratory disorders like asthma or COPD are at higher risk for complications from swine flu. Children under the age of five and adults over the age of 65 are also at higher risk of serious complications.
Preventing Swine Flu
Aside from vaccination, a few common sense measures can be taken to prevent catching H1N1 or spreading it if infected. Hygiene is an important prevention tactic. Washing your hands with soap and water or using alcohol-based hand sanitizers frequently, especially after coughing or sneezing, is important. To keep yourself safe, avoid touching your mouth, eyes or nose. Cover your mouth with your arm or a tissue if you must cough or sneeze, and stay home from work to protect others if you’re sick.