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H1N1 (Swine) Flu

H1N1 Is a New Flu

Usually, we think about just one kind of flu during flu season. But this year, you'll hear about two: regular (or seasonal) flu and H1N1 (swine) flu. Seasonal flu comes around every year and there's a vaccine (shot) for it. The H1N1 virus is new and there's a vaccine for it, too.

The vaccine will be different from the seasonal flu shot that many kids and grownups get. So to be protected against both H1N1 and the regular flu, a kid will need both. For the H1N1 virus, flu mist — a vaccine that gets sprayed up your nose — is expected to be available first, so if you don't like shots, you may be in luck.

Health experts say the H1N1 vaccine is a good idea, especially for young people. New viruses like this one are unpredictable and more people get the flu in the fall and winter. If we can keep people from getting it in the first place, that would be good for all of us.

Last spring, H1N1 (swine) flu was all over the news. The virus spread from Mexico and eventually people in the United States and other countries also got sick. Most people got better after having a fever, sore throat, and body aches, similar to the symptoms of the seasonal flu. But people who have other health problems may get very sick from this flu.

Health officials consider the swine flu a pandemic. That means the H1N1 virus has spread throughout the world, can make people very sick, and can spread easily from one person to another.

Washing Hands Is Best Defense

Most kids want to know: Should I worry or not worry about this flu? Medical experts say instead of worrying, wash your hands! Worry won't keep you from getting the flu (or any infectious disease), but good hand-washing often can keep you healthy.

A virus is a germ, as you probably know, and germs are too small to be seen. Keeping your hands clean — and following other good habits like not sharing drinks and keeping your fingers out of your mouth, nose and eyes — can help protect you from germs.

Another way to be helpful is for sick people to stay home from school (if you're a kid) or work (if you're a grownup).

Symptoms of H1N1 (swine) flu include a fever plus one or more of these:

  • cough
  • sore throat
  • runny nose
  • body aches
  • headaches
  • tiredness

A person who has the H1N1 virus also might throw up or have diarrhea.

Be sure to tell a parent if you're not feeling well. Most people who catch the H1N1 virus will get better on their own, but if someone has a medical condition, like asthma or diabetes, or is very sick and needs to be hospitalized, antiviral medicine might help the person get better faster.

What You Can Do

Here are some everyday steps you can take to stay well:

  • Avoid people who are sick (coughing, fever, etc.).

  • Try to avoid touching your eyes, nose, and mouth. That's how germs get in your body.
  • Don't drink out of the same cup or share utensils (forks, spoons) with other people.

Just the Facts

News reports about the H1N1 virus may make you confused or worried. Because this is a new illness, the news covers both what has happened and what might happen in the worst-case scenario. Because you'll be hearing more about H1N1, we recommend a "just the facts" approach.

Did you ever hear a TV detective say, "Just the facts, ma'am?" That means we stick with what we know and make decisions based on that. And if you get sick, just tell your mom or dad. With some help from your doctor, a parent can decide if you need to stay home from school.

Expect to hear about the H1N1 virus for a while. It may be months before we know the whole story and how many people it will affect. In the meantime, keep those hands clean and be sure to tell your mom or dad if you have any concerns.

Reviewed by: Mary L. Gavin, MD
Date reviewed: September 2009