What Should I Do if I Have Symptoms of H1N1 (Swine Flu)?

Woman with the flu
Woman with the flu. Image Source/Getty Images

What is H1N1?

H1N1 flu, or swine flu, is a flu virus which is spread by droplets in the air produced by coughing and sneezing which are then inhaled by another person, or by touching a surface that has the virus on it and then rubbing your eyes, nose or mouth. It was first discovered in the United States in mid-April 2009. Shortly thereafter, the CDC declared the H1N1 pandemic. The pandemic continued until the World Health Organization declared the end of the pandemic in mid-August 2010.

There was an estimated 8,870 to 18,300 deaths related to H1N1.

H1N1 Symptoms

H1N1 symptoms are the same as the typical seasonal flu. The symptoms will start abruptly unlike the common cold that can gradually get worse. You will likely have a fever & chills, cough (often with chest discomfort), fatigue, severe body aches (myalgia), nasal congestion and a runny nose.

Am I at Risk?

First off, anyone can get H1N1. However there are some people that are at more risk than other. If you have chronic health problems like asthma, diabetes, or heart conditions, you will be at a higher risk for not only getting H1N1, but also having more severe symptoms. You will also be at higher risk for acquiring H1N1 if you are: over the age of 65, child, or pregnant.

What Should I Do If I Have H1N1 Symptoms?

CDC advises that you stay home for seven days from the time you first had symptoms of H1N1. That rule applies except to seek medical care.

This means that you will need to call in sick to work, and cancel other engagements. It is important to get medical care so that your medical provider can determine whether flu testing or treatment with anti-viral drugs such as Tamiflu is necessary. You should also stay at home for 24 hours after a fever (temperature of more than or equal to 100 degrees Fahrenheit or 37.8 degrees Celsius) has subsided without medicines that reduce fevers.

To keep other family members from catching the flu, wash your hands frequently (alcohol-based hand sanitizer can be used when soap and water is not available) and contain all coughs and sneezes with tissues. If you do not have a Kleenex handy, you can always cough or sneeze into the sleeve of your shirt to help prevent H1N1 from going into the air. Sneezing into your hand is not recommended, as you can leave the H1N1 germs around the house more easily by touching things before you can wash your hands.

If you visit the doctor, you may want to ask for a face mask to make this easier, however wearing a face mask does not mean that you should resume activities outside of your home. Here are some more things you should do if you have H1N1 symptoms:

  • disinfect household surfaces frequently
  • sleep in a different bed than your spouse
  • drink plenty of fluids, particularly drinks with electrolytes (Powerade, Gatorade, etc...)

When is H1N1 an Emergency?

You should seek emergency medical care if you experience any of the following symptoms:

  • shortness of breath especially if accompanied by cyanosis (a bluish coloration around the lips or skin)
  • rapid breathing
  • for children especially, failure to drink adequate fluids
  • signs of dehydration in children (little urine or wet diapers, no tears, cracked or dry lips)
  • weakness or lethargy especially if one does not respond to their name or is difficult to wake up
  • a high fever (above 102 degrees Fahrenheit)
  • sudden dizziness
  • pressure or pain in the chest or abdomen
  • severe or persistent vomiting
  • confusion
  • flu-like symptoms that go away but then return with a fever and more severe cough

If someone in your household has H1N1 symptoms, you do not need to stay home from work but you should use appropriate hygiene such as washing your hands frequently and covering your mouth with a tissue or the sleeve of your shirt when you cough or sneeze.

If you come down with flu-like symptoms immediately start to follow the instructions described above.


Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. (2010). H1N1 Flu (Swine Flu) and You. Accessed on August 30, 2009 from http://www.cdc.gov/h1n1flu/qa.htm

Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. (2015). Flu Symptoms & Severity. Access on February 1, 2016 from http://www.cdc.gov/flu/consumer/symptoms.htm

U.S. Department of Health & Human Services. (n.d.). Pandemic Flu History. Access from http://www.flu.gov/pandemic/history/

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