Q & A on H1N1 Flu with Dr. Smith
Oct. 29, 2009
Jackson, Mich. — The highly contagious H1N1 influenza virus is attracting widespread media attention and recently caused Allegiance Health to temporarily limit hospital visitation for the safety of patients.
The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) reports that most people who have become ill with H1N1 have recovered within about seven days without requiring medical treatment. But many are still concerned about how the virus might affect them. Mark Smith, MD, medical director of Allegiance Health Emergency Care and Express Care helps to clarify misconceptions about H1N1 and answer some frequently asked questions.
- Q: Is H1N1 more serious than seasonal flu?
A: Dr. Smith: No; what makes H1N1 exceptional is that it is a new virus, and no one has built immunity against it. So most of us are likely to be affected at some point.
- Q: What are the symptoms of H1N1?
A: Dr. Smith: They are similar to those of the seasonal flu—cough, stuffy nose, usually a fever, body aches, sometimes nausea and vomiting. The symptoms come on strong and very quickly.
- Q: How can I tell if I have the H1N1 virus or just a seasonal cold or flu? Is it important to know the difference?
A: Dr. Smith: If you have symptoms now, you likely have H1N1, especially if you have a high fever and severe body aches. It doesn’t really matter if it is H1N1 or seasonal flu, however, because we deal with them in the same way – rest, fluids, social isolation, etc.
- Q: At what stage of symptoms is the H1N1 virus contagious?
A: Dr. Smith: By the time you experience the above symptoms, you have already been contagious for several days, so don’t wait any longer. Stay home from work until your fever has gone down, without aspirin or Tylenol, for 24 hours.
- Q: Do I need to call my doctor?
A: Dr. Smith: Generally, no, except for those in high-risk categories, including pregnant women, children under two years old – especially under six months, and people with chronic conditions, such as asthma, lung disease, heart disease and diabetes.
- Q: At what point, if ever, is it time to go to the Emergency Department?
A: Dr. Smith: Rare, serious conditions, such as shortness of breath or wheezing, blueness of skin, mental confusion or uncontrollable vomiting require emergency attention; the same goes for children under two who can’t eat or drink for several days.
- Q: Besides frequent hand washing, how can I keep from spreading the virus?
A: Dr. Smith: As with seasonal flu, we recommend isolating yourself from others as much as possible, including staying home from work, school and places where a lot of people will be present. Cover sneezes and coughs with a tissue, or the inside of your elbow, rather than your hands. Avoid contact with pregnant women and babies, if at all possible.
- Q: When will an H1N1 vaccine be available?
A: Dr. Smith: Production of the vaccine has been slow, but it is expected to be more readily available within the next several weeks.