Sunday, August 23, 2009

Swine Flu (H1N1 Virus) and Your Family

The H1N1 influenza, or swine flu, is expected to be on the rise this fall during the upcoming flu season. Working in a high risk area of a hospital, this hits home for me, and I hope to help spread the word of caution concerning the flu and the swine flu this season.

First, let me start off by saying that I am not a doctor. Nor is any of this medical advice. This is purely to raise awareness for families and my fellow bloggers on what to expect this upcoming flu season, especially sinice the swine flu is now an additional concern. Always consult your family physician for medical advice.

What is the Swine Flu?

The 'swine flu' is not actually the influenza found in pigs. The reason it was named as such was because of the amount of genes seemingly related to the flu that circulates among the pigs of North America. However, this has since proved to be a very different form of virus.

Now called the Novel H1N1 Virus, we now know that it has genes from 4 different sources. There are two different genes that are from two different types of pigs originating from Europe and Asia. It also contains genes from viruses that pass among birds (avian), and humans as well. This combination of four different types of genes makes the virus especially unique.

Still called the 'swine flu' among society, it is important to remember that it is, in fact, a very different virus.


As a new parent, my heightened sense of alertness is reaching new peaks the closer we get to flu season. Symtpoms of the novel H1N1 virus are strikingly similar to that of the normal influenza we normally see. They include:

  • Fever
  • Cough
  • Sore throat
  • Runny or stuffy nose
  • Body Aches
  • Headaches
  • Chills
  • Fatigue
  • Diarrhea
  • Vomiting

If a physician determines you or any of your family has these symptoms because of the flu, then they can determine whether or not it is the swine flu by running a test.

How Severe is H1N1?

The cases of the H1N1 virus range from mild to severe. Most of the cases resolve themselves without medical treatment, but other infections from the virus have resulted in hospitalization or even death. This is not with the intention to scare anyone, but these are the simple facts.

There are groups of people who are at much higher risk to more serious illnesses related to the swine flu. Because any flu virus can cause your body to go into defense mode, other illnesses (such as pneumonia) can pose serious threats, especially to the following groups of people:

  • Children under the age of 5 years old
  • Pregnant women
  • People with chronic disorders, diabetes, heart conditions, asthma and kidney disease
  • People with conditions making them immuno-suppressed (low or weak immune systems)

These groups must take extra precautions during flu season, and should see a doctor if any flu-like symtpoms present themselves.

Symtpoms of possible H1N1 or influenza viruses that require immediate medical attention

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 heldF
  • 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

How is 'Swine Flu' transferred from person to person?

The novel H1N1 virus can be spread via two methods: by air and by direct contact. If a person sneezes or coughs, the moisture left in the air containing the virus can be deposited on numerous surfaces. An influenza virus can live for as long as 2 to 8 hours after coming into contact with an object.

Any person that touches an influenza contaminted object, then touches their eyes, nose, or mouth stand at risk to contract the virus. A person can transfer the illness to another 1 day before getting sick and up to 7 days after. Immuno-compromised individuals may carry the virus longer.


As a dad and a neonatal intensive care unit staff member, I follow a fairly strict routine when it comes to the flu. For work, I have to stay home if I have any flu-like illness to prevent the spread of the virus to other co-workers and the infants themselves. Often, this means I may miss 2 or 3 shifts if the virus casues any serious illness. It is simply not worth the risk when you work in an intensive care unit.

In regards to being a dad and parent, I am gaining a clearer view on what my perception of children going to school sick is (even though she is not in school yet). The important thing to remember is, not only does my child need rest and care to get better, but I have to consider all the other kids in my daughter's classes. Me sending her to school sick puts everyone else at risk to get sick as well.

I realize I am in a unique and lucky situation where I can stay home with my daughter when she needs me, and not everyone has that opportunity. The best advice I can offer is to find whatever situation works best to be in the best interest of your child.

Tip: Teach your kids to sneeze and cough into their arms or shoulders, and make sure they throw used kleenex or tissues into waste baskets. Make sure they understand the importance of handwashing after blowing their nose, and after touching their eyes, mouth, and nose when sick.

Take these everyday steps to protect your health:

  • 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 are sick with flu-like illness, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention recommends you stay home for 24 hours until the fever is gone, except to get medical care or for other necessities. (Your fever should be gone without the use of a fever-reducing medicine.) Keep away from others as much as possible to keep from making others sick.

Other important actions that you can take are:

  • Follow public health advice regarding school closures, avoiding crowds and other social distancing measures.
  • Be prepared in case you get sick and need to stay home for a week or so; a supply of over-the-counter medicines, alcohol-based hand rubs, tissues and other related items might could be useful and help avoid the need to make trips out in public while you are sick and contagious

Treatments, Vaccinations and Medications

A common fear and misconception is that there is no treatment for the swine flu, or the novel H1N1 virus. This is simply not true.

Vaccinations for the novel H1N1 virus are currently being produced and used in trials that should be available to us this fall (2009). This new vaccine is more than likely going to be 2 new shots in addition to the normal influenza shot. For those counting, that makes 3 potential flu shots this year. The two H1N1 vaccines are right now looking at being given 3 to 4 weeks apart.

The nasal vaccines are also going to be available, both for the normal influenza and H1N1 viruses.

Medication treatment for these includes the use of oseltamivir or zanamivir. Remember, viruses cannot be cured by medications and antibiotics. Bacterial infections can be treated in these ways, but not viruses. However, antiviral drugs can make your illness milder and make you feel better faster. They may also prevent serious flu complications.


Mentioned before, this is absolutely the best way to help prevent the spread of the swine flu, or any virus or bacterial infection. Good handwashing consists of washing with warm water and soap for 15 to 20 seconds. Practice makes habit, so keep your kids washing their hands regularly during flu season to help form good handwashing habits.

From a Daddy Blogger

From me to you, flu season can be a tough time. When it rains, it pours, especially amongst immediate families in the same household. Remember and inlfuenza virus, including the swine flu (H1N1), can be serious, so take the precautions necessary to keep your family as safe as possible this season.

Vaccinations are always recommended, and as a healthcare worker, I will be getting all of mine as usual this year. My wife will be getting hers as well. Trying to keep our baby girl as safe as possible. We averted any major illness last year with her, so we were lucky. Crossing our fingers for similar results this year.

The more knowledge you have on the novel H1N1 virus, the better equipped you will be if it finds its way into your family. Always consult with your family physician regarding any medical advice.

Stay safe and stay healthy!

Cover your nose with a tissue when you sneeze. Visit for more information.

Factual information regarding the novel H1N1 virus courtesy of the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention [Source]

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