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General FAQ about the flu

What is H1N1 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 April 2009. This virus was originally referred to as “swine flu” due to some similarities in initial laboratory testing. Further study has shown that this virus is very different from what circulated in North American pigs. This virus is spreading from person-to-person, probably in much the same way that regular seasonal influenza viruses spread. At this time it appears to be no more serious than seasonal influenza.

Is this H1N1 flu virus contagious?

The CDC has determined that H1N1 flu is contagious and spreading from human to human.

How does H1N1 flu spread?

Spread of the H1N1 flu virus is thought to occur in the same way that seasonal flu spreads. Flu viruses are spread mainly from person to person through coughing or sneezing of people with influenza. Sometimes people may become infected by touching something – such as a surface or object – with flu viruses on it and then touching their mouth or nose.

How severe is illness associated with the H1N1 flu virus?

Illness with the new H1N1 flu virus has ranged from mild to severe. While most people who have been sick have recovered without needing medical treatment, hospitalizations and deaths from infection with this virus have occurred. In seasonal flu, certain people are at “high risk” of serious complications. This includes people 65 years and older, children younger than five years old, pregnant women, and people of any age with certain chronic medical conditions. About 70 percent of people who have been hospitalized with this H1N1 flu virus have had one or more medical conditions previously recognized as placing people at “high risk” of serious seasonal flu-related complications. This includes pregnancy, diabetes, heart disease, asthma and kidney disease. One thing that appears to be different from seasonal influenza is that adults older than 64 years do not yet appear to be at increased risk of H1N1-related complications thus far. CDC laboratory studies have shown that no children and very few adults younger than 60 years old have existing antibody to H1N1 flu virus; however, about one-third of adults older than 60 may have antibodies against this virus. It is unknown how much, if any, protection may be afforded against H1N1 flu by any existing antibody.

How long can an infected person spread the H1N1 flu to others?

People infected with seasonal and the H1N1 flu virus may be able to infect others from 1 day before getting sick and should be considered potentially contagious as long as they are symptomatic and possibly for up to 5 – 7 days after the onset. This can be longer in some people, especially children and people with weakened immune systems and in people infected with the new H1N1 flu virus.

What can I do to protect myself from getting sick?

The flu vaccine is the single most important way to prevent the flu. This year there will be two different vaccines; one for seasonal flu and another one for the 2009 H1N1 flu. It is advisable to get the seasonal flu vaccine as soon as it is available. CDC predicts that the H1N1 flu vaccine will begin to be available in October or November and will be initially recommended for certain priority groups. Information about the 2009 H1N1 flu vaccine can be found at: Take these everyday actions to protect your health and help prevent the spread of germs that cause respiratory illnesses like influenza:

  Cover your nose and mouth with a tissue when you cough or sneeze. Throw the tissue in the trash after you use it.

Wash your hands often with soap and water, especially after you cough or sneeze. Alcohol-based hand cleaners are also effective.

Avoid touching your eyes, nose or mouth. Germs spread this way.
Try to avoid close contact with sick people.

If you get sick with influenza, CDC recommends that you stay home from work or school and limit contact with others to keep from infecting them.

What should I do if I become ill with flu symptoms?

If you are sick with flu-like symptoms, the CDC recommends that you stay home for at least 24 hours after your fever is gone (without the use of fever-reducing medicine) except to get medical care or for other necessities. Avoiding contact with other people as much as possible will help to keep from spreading your illness to others. warning signs that need immediate medical attention include:

  In children In adults
Fast breathing or trouble breathing
Bluish skin color
Not drinking enough fluids
Not waking up or not interacting
Being so irritable that the child does not want to be held
Flu-like symptoms improve but, return with fever and worse cough
Fever with a rash

Difficulty breathing or shortness of breath
Pain or pressure in chest or abdomen
Sudden dizziness
Severe or persistent vomiting

Can H1N1 flu be treated?

Yes. The H1N1 flu virus (H1N1) is susceptible to certain antiviral drugs used to treat flu infections (oseltamivir, or Tamiflu, and zanamivir, or Relenza). For treatment, antiviral drugs work best if started soon after getting sick (within 2 days of symptoms). If you become ill and are diagnosed with influenza, your doctor can determine if you should take antiviral drugs.

Should I ask my doctor for a prescription anti-flu drug?

No. Antiviral drugs are usually used to treat people who are at risk for developing life-threatening complications from the flu. There is no reason to routinely ask for one of these drugs to keep at home, or to take them just as a precaution. Over-use could result in limited supplies for those who need it most. In addition, over-use of antiviral drugs has been known to lead to flu viruses becoming resistant to the drugs. All drugs, including antivirals, can cause side effects and should only be used when necessary under the direction of a health care provider.

What surfaces are most likely to be sources of contamination?

Germs can be spread when a person touches something that is contaminated with germs and then touches his or her eyes, nose, or mouth. Droplets from a cough or sneeze of an infected person move through the air. Germs can be spread when a person touches respiratory droplets from another person on a surface like a desk and then touches their own eyes, mouth or nose before washing their hands.

How long can influenza virus remain viable on objects (such as books and doorknobs)?

The CDC reports that studies have shown the influenza virus can survive on environmental surfaces and can infect a person for up to 2-8 hours after being deposited on the surface.

What kills influenza virus?

Most disinfectants when used as directed will kill the human influenza virus.

What is the best technique for washing my hands to avoid getting the flu?

Washing your hands often will help protect you from germs. Wash with soap and water or clean with alcohol-based hand cleaner. The CDC recommends that, when you wash your hands with soap and warm water, you wash for 15 to 20 seconds. When soap and water are not available, alcohol-based disposable hand wipes or gel sanitizers may be used. You can find them in most supermarkets and drugstores. If using gel, rub your hands until the gel is dry. The gel doesn't need water to work; the alcohol in it kills the germs on your hands.

Can I get H1N1 flu from eating or preparing pork?

No. H1N1 flu viruses are not spread by food. You cannot get infected with H1N1 flu from eating pork or pork products. Eating properly handled and cooked pork products is safe.

Where can I find additional information?

Indiana University:

IUPUI Emergency Preparedness:

CDC: H1N1: Center for Disease Control

H1N1 Flu Audio and Video Resources at the Center for Disease Control

World Health Organization:

State: Indiana Department of Health

H1N1 HR Policy