H1N1 Frequently Asked Questions

What is novel H1N1 (swine) flu?

Novel H1N1 (referred to as "swine flu" early on) is a new influenza virus causing illness in people. This new virus was first detected in people in the United States in April 2009. This virus is spreading from person-to-person worldwide, probably in much the same way that regular seasonal influenza viruses spread. On June 11, 2009, the World Health Organization (WHO) signaled that a pandemic of novel H1N1 flu was underway. back to top

Why is novel H1N1 virus sometimes called "swine flu?"

This virus was originally referred to as "swine flu" because laboratory testing showed that many of the genes in this new virus were very similar to influenza viruses that normally occur in pigs (swine) in North America. But further study has shown that this new virus is very different from what normally circulates in North American pigs. It has two genes from flu viruses that normally circulate in pigs in Europe and Asia and bird (avian) genes and human genes. Scientists call this a "quadruple reassortant" virus. back to top

Is novel H1N1 virus contagious?

CDC has determined that novel H1N1 virus is contagious and is spreading from human to human. back to top

How does novel H1N1 virus spread?

Spread of novel H1N1 virus is thought to occur in the same way that seasonal flu spreads. Flu viruses are spread mainly from person to person through coughing or sneezing by people with influenza. Sometimes people may become infected by touching something - such as a surface or object - with flu viruses on it and then touching their mouth or nose. back to top

What are the signs and symptoms of this virus in people?

The U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention defines flu-like illness this way: A fever of 100.0 F or greater, plus a cough or sore throat and possibly other symptoms like runny nose, body aches, headaches, chills, fatigue, vomiting or diarrhea. Fever is often a key factor, although it is not always present with H1N1 flu. If you have the other symptoms listed but have no fever, call your personal health professional. back to top

How severe is illness associated with novel H1N1 flu virus?

Illness with the new H1N1 virus has ranged from mild to severe. While most people who have been sick have recovered without needing medical treatment, hospitalizations and deaths from infection with this virus have occurred, especially when there has been a history of chronic illness.

In seasonal flu, certain people are at "high risk" of serious complications. This includes people 65 years and older, children younger than five years old, pregnant women, and people of any age with certain chronic medical conditions. About 70 percent of people who have been hospitalized with this novel H1N1 virus have had one or more medical conditions previously recognized as placing people at "high risk" of serious seasonal flu-related complications. This includes pregnancy, diabetes, heart disease, asthma, and kidney disease.

One thing that appears to be different from seasonal influenza is that adults older than 64 years do not yet appear to be at increased risk of novel H1N1-related complications thus far. CDC laboratory studies have shown that no children and very few adults younger than 60 years old have existing antibody to novel H1N1 flu virus; however, about one-third of adults older than 60 may have antibodies against this virus. It is unknown how much, if any, protection may be afforded against novel H1N1 flu by any existing antibody. back to top

How does novel H1N1 flu compare to seasonal flu in terms of its severity and infection rates?

With seasonal flu, we know that seasons vary in terms of timing, duration and severity. Seasonal influenza can cause mild to severe illness, and at times can lead to death. Each year, in the United States, on average 36,000 people die from flu-related complications and more than 200,000 people are hospitalized from flu-related causes. Of those hospitalized, 20,000 are children younger than 5 years old. Over 90% of deaths and about 60 percent of hospitalization occur in people older than 65.

When the novel H1N1 outbreak was first detected in mid-April 2009, CDC began working with states to collect, compile and analyze information regarding the novel H1N1 flu outbreak, including the numbers of confirmed and probable cases and the ages of these people. The information analyzed by CDC supports the conclusion that novel H1N1 flu has caused greater disease burden in people younger than 25 years of age than older people. At this time, there are few cases and few deaths reported in people older than 64 years old, which is unusual when compared with seasonal flu. However, pregnancy and other previously recognized high risk medical conditions from seasonal influenza appear to be associated with increased risk of complications from this novel H1N1. These underlying conditions include asthma, diabetes, suppressed immune systems, heart disease, kidney disease, neurocognitive and neuromuscular disorders and pregnancy. back to top

How long can an infected person spread this virus to others?

People infected with seasonal and novel H1N1 flu shed virus and may be able to infect others from 1 day before getting sick to 5 to 7 days after. This can be longer in some people, especially children and people with weakened immune systems and in people infected with the new H1N1 virus. back to top

What can I do to protect myself from getting sick?

There is no vaccine available right now to protect against novel H1N1 virus. However, a novel H1N1 vaccine is currently in production and may be ready for the public in the fall. As always, a vaccine will be available to protect against seasonal influenza.

There are everyday actions that can help prevent the spread of germs that cause respiratory illnesses like influenza. 

Take these everyday steps to protect your health:

  • Cover your nose and mouth with a tissue when you cough or sneeze. Throw the tissue in the trash after you use it.
  • Wash your hands often with soap and water, especially after you cough or sneeze. Alcohol-based hand cleaners are also effective.
  • Avoid touching your eyes, nose or mouth. Germs spread this way.
  • Try to avoid close contact with sick people.
  • If you are sick with flu-like illness, CDC recommends that you stay home for at least 24 hours after your fever is gone except to get medical care or for other necessities. (Your fever should be gone without the use of a fever-reducing medicine.) Keep away from others as much as possible to keep from making others sick.

Other important actions that you can take are:

  • Follow public health advice regarding school closures, avoiding crowds, and other social distancing measures.
  • Be prepared in case you get sick and need to stay home for a week or so; a supply of over-the-counter medicines, alcohol-based hand rubs, tissues, and other related items might could be useful and help avoid the need to make trips out in public while you are sick and contagious. back to top

What should I do if I get sick?

If you become ill with influenza-like symptoms such as fever, body aches, cough, runny nose, sore throat, or nausea, you may not need to see a health professional if your symptoms are mild. When in doubt, call your personal health professional. The vast majority of people who become ill have mild to moderate severity and recover fully in a week or less, without any medical intervention. However, if you are ill with flu and are pregnant or have any chronic illness, please call your personal health professional.

If you are sick, do not go to class or to work. You should stay home or in your residence hall and avoid contact with other people as much as possible for at least 24 hours after your fever is gone to keep from spreading your illness to others.

Click here for home isolation instructions for persons with fever and cough.

If you experience any of the following warning signs:

  • Difficulty breathing or shortness of breath
  • Pain or pressure in the chest or abdomen
  • Sudden dizziness
  • Confusion
  • Severe or persistent vomiting or diarrhea
  • Flu-like symptoms improve but then return with fever and worse cough

... seek emergency medical care by calling 911. back to top

What should I do if someone I know gets sick?

If you have had close contact with someone who has had influenza and you have a risk factor for complications (shown below), you should consult with your healthcare provider as to whether you should receive preventive treatment. Those risk factors include:

  • Chronic pulmonary, cardiovascular, renal, hepatic, hematological, or metabolic disorders
  • Immunosuppression, including HIV-related or caused by medication
  • Compromised respiratory function, including conditions which increase the risk for aspiration
  • Long-term aspirin therapy
  • Pregnancy
  • Age > 65 years
  • Age < 2 years
  • Residents of nursing homes or other chronic care facilities back to top

Can I get novel H1N1 (swine) influenza from eating or preparing pork?

No. Swine influenza viruses are not spread by food. You cannot get swine influenza from eating pork or pork products. Eating properly handled and cooked pork products is safe. back to top

What do I do if I am feeling anxious about H1N1 flu?

Anxiety is a common reaction to times of increased stress. It is important that you take steps to mange your fears and not panic. There are many things that you can do to cope with anxiety.

  • Keep yourself informed with accurate information. Do not flood yourself with constant TV or news watching.
  • Turn to your family, friends, and loved ones for support, and talk to them about your experiences and feelings.
  • Recognize that what you are feeling is normal.
  • Keep to your usual routine and find ways to relax and be kind to yourself.
  • Avoid alcohol and drug use.

You should get immediate help from a trained mental health professional if you or a loved one is experiencing any one or more of these problems:

  • Inability to return to normal routine
  • Feeling extremely helpless
  • Having thoughts of hurting one’s self or others
  • Using alcohol or drugs excessively

For more information about anxiety regarding H1N1 flu, see the American Psychological Association's web page Managing Your Anxiety about H1N1 Flu. back to top


For up to date information about H1N1 flu:

back to top