How to Handle the H1N1 Swine Flu Pandemic

Last Editorial Review: 10/29/2009

By Laura Lee Bloor

Reviewed by William C. Shiel Jr., MD, FACP, FACR

What is a pandemic?

The H1N1 swine flu pandemic is another way of saying the H1N1 virus is a global disease outbreak. Pandemics are difficult to predict because several factors influence how destructive it can be. A flu pandemic's impact depends on

  • the number of cases;

  • the virulence, or strength, of the virus;

  • people's individual immunities;

  • the immunity protection people derived from antibodies acquired through seasonal flu infections;

  • the effectiveness of preventative measures against the influenza virus.

What preparedness plans have been developed for the H1N1 swine flu pandemic?

Millions of doses of flu vaccines have been developed to combat the spread of the H1N1 swine flu pandemic. Some come in the form of a regular flu shot injected subcutaneously and others are the FluMist nasal spray vaccine. Contact your doctor about getting the H1N1 swine flu vaccine.

For those who still contract H1N1 swine flu, the antiviral drugs oseltamivir (Tamiflu) and zanamivir (Relenza) may be prescribed. These drugs are most effective when taken within 48 hours of the start of H1N1 flu symptoms. Whether these are prescribed for treatment depends on each individual case; not everyone needs antiviral drugs. People can recover from swine flu without Tamiflu or Relenza.

Who gets the H1N1 swine flu vaccine first?

Everyone should get vaccinated, but a few groups have priority:

  • Pregnant women

  • Day-care providers and other caregivers of children

  • Health-care workers and emergency medical personnel

  • Kids and young adults 6 months to 24 years of age

  • People 25-64 years of age who have medical conditions that increase the risk of flu complications, such as asthma

A few regulations apply to the H1N1 vaccines: The H1N1 nasal spray vaccine is only approved for healthy people 2-49 years of age. Also, the nasal spray is not approved for pregnant women, so they should get the flu shot. The H1N1 nasal spray vaccine is a live vaccine and should not be given to people taking certain medications that suppress the immune response.

How can I help prevent an H1N1 swine flu infection?

To protect yourself from swine flu and other flu viruses, you should

  • avoid close contact with people who are sick with a fever and/or cough;

  • try to confine an individual infected with swine flu to a spare bedroom and consider wearing a face mask when you interact with them;

  • wash your hands frequently and thoroughly with antibacterial soap and water;

  • use hand sanitizer gels if you can't wash your hands;

  • avoid touching your eyes, nose, and mouth unless you've just washed your hands;

  • cover your mouth when you cough or sneeze, and wash your hands as soon as possible;

  • engage in healthy habits;

    • Get enough sleep (seven to eight hours a night).

    • Eat healthy, nutritious meals with lots of fruits and vegetables.

    • Exercise most days of the week.

  • if you start to feel sick, go home and stay home until you can get in to see your doctor.

How can I prepare for the H1N1 swine flu pandemic?

To minimize the impact a global swine flu pandemic would have on your daily life, you can

  • store extra supplies of food, water, and nonprescription drugs, such as pain relievers and cough and cold medications;

  • create a plan to ensure you can get prescriptions;

  • volunteer in your community to help assist in the event of an emergency;

  • secure other means of transportation if you use public transportation;

  • see if you can work from home and do not go into the office in the event that you develop H1N1 swine flu;

  • talk with teachers at your children's school for ideas on how to keep them actively learning in case schools are forced to close for extended time.

What are other examples of pandemics?

Perhaps the most well-known and devastating pandemic is that of human immunodeficiency virus (HIV), which causes acquired immunodeficiency syndrome (AIDS). Another well-known pandemic is the 1918 flu, also known as the Spanish flu, which killed between 40-50 million people.

In 1957, Asian influenza killed 2 million people, and in 1968, Hong Kong influenza killed 1 million people.


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