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Swine Flu - An Overview

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Swine Flu - An Overview

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H1N1 is an influenza A virus responsible for swine flu, resulting from a combination of viruses that can impact pigs, humans, and birds.

Medically reviewed by

Dr. K. Shobana

Published At August 23, 2017
Reviewed AtFebruary 16, 2024

What Is H1N1 or Swine Flu?

Swine flu, or H1N1, is a respiratory infection caused by a type of influenza A virus, similar to the one that affects pigs. It spreads easily through airborne droplets from coughs or sneezes and can also be contracted by touching contaminated surfaces and then touching the face. H1N1 shares symptoms with seasonal flu and is caused by the H1N1 strain of the flu virus.

Who Are at Maximum Risk?

While it can impact individuals of all age groups, it is more prevalent among young children and the elderly. The risk is elevated for those with underlying conditions such as diabetes, lung disease, liver and kidney disorders, or any immunocompromised state.

What Are the Clinical Symptoms of Swine Flu?

The signs of flu caused by H1N1 are similar to those of other flu strains. Flu symptoms usually emerge between one to four days after exposure to the virus. These symptoms include:

  • Fever (although not always).

  • Muscle aches.

  • Chills and sweating.

  • Persistent cough.

  • Sore throat.

  • Nasal congestion or runny nose.

  • Irritated, red eyes.

  • Eye discomfort.

  • Body pains.

  • Headaches.

  • Fatigue and general weakness.

  • Diarrhea.

  • Nausea or vomiting (more common in children than adults)..

How Is Swine Flu Diagnosed and Confirmed?

The illness is typically diagnosed by excluding other potential causes when a patient exhibits symptoms like fever, cough, and sore throat. Confirmation of swine flu is typically achieved in patients with influenza-like symptoms who test positive for H1N1. This confirmation is established through methods such as RT-PCR (reverse transcription polymerase chain reaction) or viral culture.

Is It Contagious?

Yes, it is contagious and gets transmitted from one person to another through sneezing or coughing and spreads by large-particle droplets. It may also get transmitted through contaminated objects, close contact, and handshakes.

What Is the Period of Transmission?

Transmission from an infected person to a healthy person may occur from one day prior to the onset of symptoms to seven days after.

How to Prevent Its Spread?

As its transmission is from one person to another, prevention can be achieved by isolating those infected with H1N1, and those in close contact, such as healthcare providers and attendants can wear a triple-layer mask. Those who are at a higher risk should get vaccinated.

Is There a Vaccine for Swine Flu?

A trivalent vaccine is approved for seasonal influenza. Vaccination should be done yearly. The efficacy of the vaccine is 70 to 80 percent. Vaccines take two to three weeks to develop immunity. So, it is recommended to get vaccinated at least a month before the start of the season. The swine flu vaccine comes as a shot (injection) or a nasal spray. The spray is for people aged 2 to 49. Swine flu vaccines may lead to some side effects like fever, nausea, and headaches. These effects are usually mild and go away fast.

According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) guidelines, everyone aged 6 months and older should get a flu shot every year. The flu vaccine provides protection against the H1N1 virus. The swine flu vaccine decreases one's chances of getting sick with the flu. It also reduces the risk of severe illness from the flu, requiring hospitalization. The swine flu vaccine holds particular significance because both the flu and COVID-19 can present similar symptoms.

What Are the Warning Signs and Criteria for Hospitalization?

If the individual is healthy and feels like they have the flu, they usually do not need to visit doctor. But if the individual is pregnant or has an illness like asthma, emphysema, diabetes, or a heart problem, it is important to call the doctor if they start having flu symptoms. One should also get medical help right away if they have serious flu symptoms.

  • For Adults - The warning signs or sympyoms include trouble breathing, high-grade fever, pain or pressure in the chest and abdomen, not urinating enough, feeling very dizzy, having seizures, existing medical conditions worsening, feeling extremely weak or experiencing a lot of muscle pain, confusion, and severe or persistent vomiting. If any of these signs are present, the patient should consult a physician for hospitalization.

  • For Children - Emergency symptoms in children may manifest as difficulty breathing, skin appearing pale, gray, or blue, chest pain, signs of dehydration, severe muscle pain, seizures, or worsening of pre-existing medical conditions

What Care Should Be Taken During the Home Management of Swine Flu Patients?

Patients need to be kept in isolation for seven days. They should follow cough etiquettes, take plenty of fluids, avoid handshaking, wash their hands frequently, avoid visitors, avoid smoking, and wear a mask all the time. Some lifestyle remedies to handle swine flu symptoms and avoid more infection consist of:

  • Use medicines one can buy without a prescription.

  • Get enough sleep and try to exercise regularly.

  • Find ways to relax and manage any stress one feel.

  • Drink lots of liquids and eat healthy foods.

  • Try to stay away from people who have flu symptoms.

  • Be careful not to touch surfaces that might have the virus on them.

How Is Swine Flu Treated?

Tamiflu (Oseltamivir) is an antiviral medication approved for both the treatment and prevention (prophylaxis) of swine flu. The decision to administer treatment is typically based on an evaluation of the patient's signs, symptoms, and underlying health conditions, categorized as A, B, or C. In the treatment protocol, Tamiflu is recommended for patients falling into category B and C. Category C patients, in addition to antiviral treatment, may also require testing and hospitalization. It is important for healthcare professionals to assess the severity of the illness and the individual patient's risk factors when determining the appropriate course of action.


Swine flu or H1N1 influenza is a serious health issue that can spread quickly and cause severe problems. Swine flu vaccines and medicines can help prevent and treat it. It is crucial for individuals to remain vigilant in practicing good hygiene, seeking medical attention promptly when experiencing symptoms, and staying informed about updates from health authorities. By taking these steps together, people can reduce the effects of swine flu outbreaks and keep communities healthy.

Dr. Pratyush Kumar
Dr. Pratyush Kumar

General Practitioner


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