H1N1 (Swine) Flu Information
What is it and why is it in the news?
- H1N1 is in the news because it is a novel strain of influenza A. It has components of swine, avian and human flu. When there is a new strain, there can be uncertainty about how severe the illness will be and heightened alert. Even though there have been deaths in the United States and internationally, most cases of H1N1 have been similar to traditional flu or even milder. The term "swine flu"? was initially used but has now been replaced by novel H1N1 or H1N1 influenza A. A person does not get this strain of flu by being around pigs or by consuming pork. Flu vaccine commonly received in the fall to protect against traditional flu will not contain protection against this new strain of influenza.
How did this strain of flu start?
- Investigations are ongoing, but so far officials do not yet know the origin of 2009 H1N1. It appears to be a mix of several flu strains.
How sick do people get?
- Many people who get H1N1 have the same type of symptoms as seasonal flu and recover fully. Just like seasonal flu, however, H1N1 can lead to pneumonia, and, in some cases, death.
Why is there so much concern about this flu?
- Annually, about 35,000 people die from seasonal flu. But the 2009 H1N1 flu is a new strain, which means people have not yet built up immunity, and we don’t have a vaccine to protect against it. Also, because it is new, health officials can’t yet predict how people will physically respond to it.
So far, the H1N1 flu symptoms don’t sound severe. Why is the concern so high?
- Every day that we identify new cases around the world, we obtain more information about how this virus behaves, which helps us understand how virulent, or severe, the virus is. Although illness related to 2009 H1N1 in the United States has been mild, health officials are preparing for the possibility that more severe cases could occur here in the United States during the fall and winter months.
Will this be like the 1918 pandemic and come back stronger in the fall?
- The huge 1918 influenza pandemic resulted in many severe cases and deaths. It's possible this new virus could cause another large pandemic, but we don't know at this point. One of the differences between 2009 and 1918 is that we have more medical resources available. For example, the federal government is working on a vaccine to treat this flu. In addition to much better health care in hospitals, antiviral medications are available that are effective in treating this flu. We also have better disease surveillance in place to help us monitor this outbreak.