Swine flu, also known as H1N1 influenza, is a type of viral infection that infects the respiratory tract. This infection usually peaks during winters and can lead to various health complications like pneumonia and respiratory failure. Just like any other flu, swine flu also spreads really fast from one person to the other. A simple sneeze or a cough can spread thousands of viruses through droplets or by touching the contaminated surfaces like books, tables, and door handles etc. Here are few common questions about swine flu answered.
Are You At Risk Of Swine Flu?
You might be at risk of swine flu if you are:
-Younger than 5 years of age
-Over 65 years of age
-A pregnant woman
-Suffering from chronic illnesses such as heart disease or diabetes mellitus
-Suffering from respiratory problems
-Someone with a low immunity
What Are The Signs And Symptoms Of Swine Flu?
The signs and symptoms of swine flu are quite similar to regular flu and hence, it is difficult to differentiate between the two. This is the reason why it is advised to consult a doctor to know the exact cause of the flu. The symptoms of swine flu include:
-Sudden onset of fever (>100°F)
-Runny and stuffy nose
-Generalized body aches
-Gastric upset like vomiting and diarrhea
If you suffer from any of these symptoms for more than 48 hours, then it is advised to consult a doctor immediately.
How Is Swine Flu Diagnosed?
Swine flu can be diagnosed clinically by a doctor by taking a history of the disease and its sign and symptoms. The diagnosis may further be confirmed by laboratory tests as advised by your doctor. If you have flu-like symptoms, your doctor might advise you to get a lab test done. For this, your respiratory sample will be collected preferably within 4 to 5 days of visible symptoms. Once a sample is collected, a real-time polymerase chain reaction (PCR) test may be done where the genetic material of the virus is identified. Unlike test for diabetes and lipid profile, you do not have to fast before getting this test done.
Usually, you can get your test results within a day but in case of emergency, you can get the results within 6-8 hours after you give your sample. You can even book a test online to get tested for swine flu.
How Is Swine Flu Treated?
If you are tested positive for swine flu, the treatment should be initiated immediately to prevent the spread of the virus. According to the National Institute of Communicable Disease (NICD), if swine is diagnosed in its early stage, it can be completely treated. Your doctor may give you antiviral medications such as oseltamivir (Tamiflu/Fluvir) and zanamivir (Relenza). As per NICD recommendations, the medicine should be administered within 48 hours of the first appearance of the symptoms. These medications should be taken exactly as prescribed by your doctor. The drugs work by inhibiting the ability of the virus to divide and thus, prevent it from spreading the viral particles into the body.
In addition to antiviral medications, there are few other lifestyle tips your doctor might recommend. These include:
Avoid dehydration. It is important to stay hydrated and drink plenty of water and other liquids like juices and soups as they will provide you with nutrients.
Take a lot of rest as it will help you to recover fast.
Use of over the counter painkillers like paracetamol for a headache, muscle ache or a sore throat, though these should be taken under medical guidance.
There is no role of vaccination once you have developed the infection. However, it can lower the chances of getting an infection if swine flu is endemic in your area.
Do not self medicate as there are certain medicines which are claimed to be used for the prevention of flu. However, these should be taken only after consulting with your doctor or after being prescribed by a doctor.
How Can Swine Flu Be Prevented?
You can prevent swine flu by following some simple day-to-day measures and also getting vaccinated if needed. Here are some important do’s and don’ts that you should remember:
1. Wash your hands frequently with soap and water for at least 20 seconds or use an alcohol-based hand sanitizer (with at least 60% alcohol).
2. Cover your nose and mouth with a tissue or handkerchief when you cough or sneeze. Do not reuse them. If you do not have a tissue or handkerchief, use the sleeve or cuff of your shirt.
3. Gargle at least twice a day with warm salt water as the virus will take 2-3 days after initial infection in the nose/throat to grow and show symptoms.
4. Clean your nose at least once every day with cotton buds dipped in warm salt water and blow the nose hard once a day.
5. Take foods rich in Vitamin C (like Amla, lemon and other citrus fruits). These would help in improving your immunity.
6. Drink warm liquids (tea, coffee, etc) often. This may help to wash off the viruses from the throat into the stomach where they cannot survive or cause any harm.
1. Avoid touching any part of your face, especially after sneezing or coughing.
2. Avoid overcrowded places and direct contact with swine flu patients. If you feel sick, stay away from work/school and limit contact with others.
3. Keep a distance of at least an arm’s length from the person having flu.
4. Do not take medicines without consulting your doctor.
Swine Flu Vaccination: What You Need To Be Aware Of?
Swine flu can be prevented by a vaccine given every year before the onset of the winter season. Vaccination is recommended for people at high risk which include children (6 months and 5 years), people above 65 years, people suffering from chronic respiratory and heart problems, diabetes, pregnant women or as advised by your clinician.
-The vaccines are generally available in two variants – a lower dose for children till 35 months of age and higher dose for children above 36 months of age and for adults.
-If the vaccine is being given for the first time to a person, the doctor may recommend another dose after 4 weeks.
-It takes about 2 to 3 weeks for the vaccine to be effective. So, if you are exposed to flu immediately before or after vaccination, you could still develop the illness.
-You may need to be vaccinated every year as the type of virus causing swine flu (known as virus strains) can change every year and the protection from this vaccine remains for 6 to 12 months only.
-This vaccine will not protect you against the common cold, even if some symptoms are similar.
– If you have bought the vaccine from a pharmacy, try to store it at a temperature of 2 to 8 degree Celsius. Do not deep freeze the vaccine.
(The article is reviewed by Dr. Lalit Kanodia, General Physician)