Feeling feverish about H1N1? We talked to paediatric infectious diseases clinician Bob Bortolussi, from IWK Health Centre in Halifax, to separate fact from fear.
Q: What is the difference between H1N1 and regular flu strains?
A: Influenza can cause fever, aches, fatigue, weakness, a cough, chest discomfort and sore throat. In severe cases, flu can lead to complications, such as pneumonia, respiratory failure and even death. H1N1 flu (formerly known as human swine flu) is a new kind of flu in humans, so we have no natural resistance to it.
Q: How can I protect my family?
A: The virus is spread through droplets in the air and hand contact, so routinely washing your hands with soap and water is the best way for your family to steer clear of H1N1. When you can’t wash at the sink, use an alcohol-based hand sanitizer. Busy places breed viruses, so find out what measures are used in your child’s daycare and school. Are kids reminded to sneeze or cough into their sleeves rather than their hands, for instance? Are huggy children gently reminded to back off? Is a no-share rule in place regarding water bottles and food?
Q: Will flu shots protect us?
A: Yes and no. The regular flu vaccine will protect you against many strains of flu. A specific H1N1 vaccine is expected to be available by mid-November, and will be offered first to high-priority people: health care workers, pregnant women, children and those with a compromised immune system or a chronic disease, such as asthma.
Q: What should I do if I suspect my child has H1N1?
A: Only lab tests can tell regular flu from H1N1. So if your kids have mild to moderate flu symptoms, keep them home for five days or until they’re feeling better — which includes being fever-free for at least 24 hours — to heal and help prevent spreading the virus. And lower everyone’s risk by practising good hygiene, getting rest and drinking plenty of fluids.
Q: Should I ask my doctor about an antiviral medication?
A: Prescription antivirals are only advised when the illness is moderate to severe, or in people at risk for complications. If your child gets a mild case of H1N1, she will likely heal on her own; the virus can also become resistant to antivirals if they are overused.
Q: When should I take my child to see a doctor?
A: Seek medical help for your child if she’s in a high-risk group (as described earlier); she has severe symptoms, such as shortness of breath, sudden dizziness or chest pain; vomiting keeps her from drinking fluids; or her symptoms don’t start to subside after three days.