Swine Flu Symptoms

Flu Basics

Mother Check Daughters Temperature
A fever is a common flu symptom. moodboard - Mike Watson Images/Brand X Pictures/Getty Images

Although the name 'swine flu' brings up a lot of extra fear and worry, it is important to note that swine flu is just a variant influenza virus.

2009 Swine Flu Pandemic

Swine flu is another type of flu virus, just like those that cause our typical seasonal flu symptoms. In 2009, the big difference was that when swine influenza A (H1N1) virus first appeared, it was new and most of us don't have any immunity to it.

That is why it so easily became a pandemic virus (with the ability to cause a global outbreak) and could easily spread from person to person.

From the time it was first detected in April 2009 (a 10-year-old girl in California) to when it became it a global pandemic in June 2009 and was finally over in August 2010, the CDC estimates that swine flu infected up to 89 million people in the US and caused just over 18,000 deaths. Worldwide, up to 575,400 people died from pandemic swine flu.

The swine flu pandemic of 2009-2010 has long gone, but that isn't the end of the 2009 H1N1 virus. It continues to be a part of the seasonal flu vaccine and is one of the 3 or 4 flu strains we are seeing this flu season.

There are also several swine flu viruses, including swine triple reassortant (tr) H1N1, trH3N2, and trH1N2, that only affect pigs and do not normally cause disease in people. When they do, it is usually in between that had close contact with the infected pigs.

You cannot get swine flu from eating a sick pig.

Swine Flu Symptoms

According to the CDC, like seasonal flu, symptoms of swine flu infections can include:

  • fever, which is usually high, but unlike seasonal flu, is sometimes absent
  • cough
  • runny nose or stuffy nose
  • sore throat
  • body aches
  • headache
  • chills
  • fatigue or tiredness, which can be extreme
  • diarrhea and vomiting, sometimes, but more commonly seen than with seasonal flu

Signs of a more serious swine flu infection might include pneumonia and respiratory failure.

If your child has symptoms of swine flu, you should avoid other people and call your pediatrician who might do a rapid flu test to see if he has an influenza A infection. Further testing can then be done to see if it is a swine flu infection. Keep in mind that the rapid flu tests that most pediatricians have in their office can often tell if a child has an influenza A or influenza B infection, but can't identify H1N1 directly. Since there is more than one influenza A virus strain going around this season (H1N1 and H3N2), a positive influenza A test doesn't necessarily mean swine flu.

Serious Swine Flu Symptoms

As with other conditions, more serious symptoms that would indicate that a child with swine flu would 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 held
  • Flu-like symptoms improve but then return with fever and worse cough

Call your pediatrician or seek immediate medical attention if your child with the flu is getting worse. The flu is a life-threatening disease and there are typically over 100 pediatric flu deaths each year.

What You Need To Know About Swine Flu Symptoms

Other things to know about swine flu symptoms include that:

  • Swine flu likely spreads by direct contact with respiratory secretions of someone that is sick with swine flu, like if they were coughing and sneezing close to you.
     
  • People with swine flu are likely contagious for one day before and up to seven days after they began to get sick with swine flu symptoms.
     
  • Droplets from a cough or sneeze can also contaminate surfaces, such as a doorknob, drinking glass, or kitchen counter, although these germs likely don't survive for more than a few hours.
     
  • Anti-flu medications, including Tamiflu (oseltamivir) and Relenza (zanamivir), are available to prevent and treat swine flu in high-risk children.
     

And most importantly, although some people still talk about swine flu, it is important to keep in mind that this year swine flu is really just like any other strain of seasonal flu we would see in any other year.

Sources:

Dawood, F. S., Iuliano, A.D., Reed, C., et al. Estimated global mortality associated with the first 12 months of 2009 pandemic influenza A H1N1 virus circulation: a modeling study. Lancet Infect Dis. 2012 Jun 26.

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