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H1N1: Here is Everything You Need to Know

H1N1 virus, commonly known as swine flu, has recently affected scores of people worldwide. From 2009 onwards, India has been witnessing a substantial rise in cases of swine flu. World Health Organization (WHO) declared 2010 as the swine flu pandemic, but though this has passed, the virus had alarmingly reappeared time and again in different parts of India

Swine flu can spread from one person to the other in the same way as common seasonal flu—coughing, sneezing, and touching various surfaces. What is worse, the virus of swine flu may mutate with time and become more easily transmissible. Most commonly, swine flu affects the vulnerable people like children, pregnant women, elderly, people who are immune suppressed like patients with uncontrolled diabetics, cancer,kidney disease, liver disease, transplant patients on immunosuppressants etc.

Since the virus mutates rapidly, there are many types and sub types.

Symptoms appear 1-3 days after exposure to the virus

  •       Fever
  •       Chills
  •       Headache and body ache
  •       Cough, sore throat
  •       Cold
  •       Fatigue
  •       Diarrhoea, nausea or vomiting

Categories of virus

  • Category A: symptoms are usually mild, and treatment is symptomatic
  • Category B: Fever will be high grade and all above symptoms will be severe. These patients usually need anti viral and should be isolated at home. They need to be reassessed periodically.
  • Category C: Symptoms are very severe and there is breathlessness, chest pain, fall in blood pressure, blood tinged sputum, drowsiness, bluish discoloration of nails etc. They require immediate hospitalization and aggressive treatment with respiratory and other forms of support

Prevention and Treatment

Avoiding contact with the sick is key to prevention against H1N1. If you are an office-goer, try to sit in a well-ventilated area. On the other hand, flu vaccination is still the best way to prevent becoming infected with any type of influenza virus. Vaccines are available both as injectable and in the nasal spray forms.

However, once infected, getting the right treatment on time is crucial. If you have persistent, high fever, do not delay diagnosis. Record the temperature at regular interval using a thermometer. If diagnosed with H1N1, it is advisable to be at home as others can get easily infected. The disease may last for about 7-8 days and becomes critical if it persists more than 10 days.

Diagnosis of H1N1 is done by doing a throat swab and is done in approved laboratories only

At a Glance:

·         H1N1 is a contagious virus and spreads through airborne droplets during coughing and sneezing. The symptoms are fever, cough, sore throat, runny or stuffy nose, watery red eyes, body ache, diarrhea, nausea and vomiting. 

·         Children with mild illness but with predisposing risk factors, pregnant women, elderly people aged 65 years or more, patients with diseases of lung, heart, liver, kidney, as well as blood disorders, diabetes, neurological disorders, cancer and HIV/AIDS are the most vulnerable to swine flu.

·         The virus can trigger serious complications such as severe pneumonia and respiratory failure, especially in people with asthma or pulmonary disease.

·         Remedial steps include staying at home till fever subsides, covering mouth and nose while sneezing or coughing, among other things.

·         Treatment for swine flu comprises supportive care, consisting of bed rest, adequate fluid consumption, increase the intake of Vitamin-C in diet, using non-steroidal anti-inflammatory drugs (NSAIDs) for fever, and cough suppressants. Severe cases may require intravenous hydration.

·         To reduce the risk of contracting H1N1 virus, clean your hands often with soap and water, especially after coughing or sneezing. If using a handkerchief, dispose it carefully in a bin. Do not expose yourself to crowded places


By: Dr. Mahesh Lakhe, Consultant – Internal Medicine & Infectious Diseases, Columbia Asia Hospital, Pune

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