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What to Do If You Get H1N1 (Swine) Flu

You've probably been wondering what you should do if you get H1N1 influenza (aka "swine flu"). The good news is that H1N1 flu isn't really that different from normal seasonal flu. Although experts were concerned that H1N1 might mutate into a stronger strain of flu, so far that hasn't happened.

Because H1N1 flu is similar to regular flu, it's usually treated at home in pretty much the same way. Here's what to do if you get flu symptoms, like a fever, runny nose, or coughing:

Start by calling your doctor. Your doctor can assess your situation and in some cases may give you antiviral medications to lessen your symptoms and shorten the time you'll be sick.

Stay home from school (or work and other activities). Taking it easy at home can help you recover faster. It also prevents the flu from spreading to other people. That's why doctors recommend that people with flu symptoms stay home until at least 24 hours after their fever has gone away on its own (without the help of fever-reducing medications). Of course, if you still don't feel better even after your fever is gone, you'll want to rest up until you do.

Drink lots of fluids. People with flu can get dehydrated — especially if they are throwing up or have diarrhea. So you need to keep your body stocked up on fluids. The best thing to drink is plain old water. But when you're sick, it's OK to ignore the rule about not having too many sugary drinks, like juice or sports drinks. Your main goal right now is to stay hydrated.

Limit caffeine. The only drinks that aren't ideal are those that contain caffeine, such as soda, coffee, or energy drinks. Caffeine makes people pee more. It's not clear if this causes people to get dehydrated, but why take a chance? Don't rely on caffeinated drinks as your main source of liquids.

Get lots of sleep. Sleep and rest can keep your immune system working at its best.

Take acetaminophen or ibuprofen to relieve fever and aches — but avoid aspirin. Aspirin puts teens at greater risk of developing a rare but serious illness called Reye syndrome. Over-the-counter (OTC) cold or cough medicine may relieve some flu symptoms, and medicines for upset stomach can help with things like diarrhea. But check the label before taking any of these. Aspirin can show up in some surprising places.

Wear layers. You might be cold one minute and hot the next. Wearing several layers makes it easy to add or remove clothes as needed.

Protect others. Wash your hands frequently, avoid sharing cups or eating utensils, cough or sneeze into your elbow (not your hands), and throw used tissues in the garbage. You don't want to spread the flu to everyone else, if you can help it. Hand sanitizer works well as a backup to hand washing if you don't have access to soap and water.

Most people who get H1N1 flu will get better on their own within a week or so. But if you have a high temperature for more than a few days, if you have any trouble breathing, or if you seem to get better but then feel worse again, call your doctor right away.

Reviewed by: Kate M. Cronan, MD
Date reviewed: September 2009