What is H1N1?   

H1N1 is a virus that affects the respiratory systems (nose, throat and lungs).  It was initially a virus that infected animals, mainly pigs, but somehow it found itself infecting humans, hence the name Human Swine Influenza.  It is unknown how the virus was transmitted to humans.

How is it different from the seasonal flu?  

The seasonal flu is present every year, even with mutations; most of us have developed a immunity or have been vaccinated to protect ourselves from being affected by the virus.   H1N1 is a new virus so we have no or little defense against it. This is why H1N1 can cause severe illness in the young healthy people.

What can I do to protect myself from H1N1?

H1N1, and the seasonal flu, is transmitted from person to person through respiratory droplets by sneezing or coughing and/or coming in contact with contaminated surfaces. Therefore the same principles apply to H1N1 as all other virus:  Wash your hands, cover your mouth when sneezing, coughing, and if ill avoid contact with other healthy and more important unhealthy people.

What are the symptoms of H1N1? 

Flu like symptoms: fever, chills, fatigue, general malaise, cough, sneezing, headache sore throat, runny nose, nausea and diarrhea.

What do I do if I come in contact with someone that appears to have the flu?  

Wash your hands! Keep an eye for the development of symptoms.

If you do become ill, again the same principles apply to all flu like infections: rest, over the counter pain medication for discomfort and fever, lots of fluids and isolate yourself to avoid spreading the infection.  However it is recommended to seek medical help if your symptoms worsen and fever does not budge with meds, if you develop respiratory symptoms such as difficulty breathing, if you are pregnant or if your immune system is compromised by a chronic disease.   Note that antiviral treatment is available for people with serious infection, with low immunity or with pregnancy.   They have been shown to decrease the severity and the complications of the infection however they are not effective in preventing the infection.  Taking the antiviral as a preventive measure increases the risks of developing resistance to this medication just like in the cases of antibiotics.

What is the difference between the flu vaccine and the H1N1 vaccine? 

No difference, simply two different vaccines to help your immune system build a defense response to the exposure to the real virus.   The seasonal flu vaccine should be available early to mid October and can be received at your family doctors office, flu shot clinics, etc.  The H1N1 vaccine is expected to be available in November and information regarding doses, side effects and vaccination clinics will be provided then.

You want to know more about the flu, you can call:

The Nova Scotia Toll Free Public Information Line (voice recording only): 1-888-451-4222

The Public Health Agency of Canada: 1-800-454-8302

 Or visit these websites:

Nova Scotia Health Promotion & Protection www.gov.ns.ca/hpp/cdpc/swineinfluenza.asp

Public Health Agency of Canada www.phac-aspc.gc.ca or www.fightflu.ca

World Health Organization  www.who.int/csr/disease/swineflu/en