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Is Swine Flu the Same Thing as H1N1 Flu?

I keep hearing about swine flu, but now I hear about H1N1 flu too. Are they the same kind of flu or different?
– Ellie*

Swine flu and H1N1 flu are both names for the same kind of flu. This relatively recent strain of flu is spreading right now, and you'll probably hear a lot about it over the next few months. But whether you hear it called "swine flu" or "H1N1 influenza," the tips on how to prevent and treat this type of flu are the same.

The new flu virus started out being called "swine flu." That name came about because early laboratory tests showed that many of the genes in the virus were similar to flu viruses that North American pigs get. Now experts think that the name "swine flu" is confusing: This particular strain of flu virus spreads mostly among people, not pigs. Further lab tests show that the virus is not that similar to North American pig viruses after all.

H1N1 spreads in the same way that other flu viruses do — through the air when a person who has the virus sneezes, coughs, or speaks. People also can catch the virus after touching a surface or object that someone with the virus touched, sneezed, or coughed on.

H1N1 flu has been declared a pandemic, but that only means that the virus can spread easily and quickly. It doesn't mean that H1N1 will cause severe illness in most people who get it. In fact, many people who get this type of flu will have mild cases that get better on their own without treatment.

If you start noticing flu symptoms, call your doctor's office for advice — especially if you have other health conditions. And don't forget to get your flu vaccines. The H1N1 vaccine is different from the regular seasonal flu vaccine, so you'll need to get both.

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Although we can't reply personally, you may see your question posted to this page in the future. If you're looking for medical advice, a diagnosis, or treatment, consult your doctor or other qualified medical professional. If this is an emergency, contact emergency services in your area.

Reviewed by: Larissa Hirsch, MD
Date reviewed: September 2009