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What is novel H1N1 flu?
H1N1 Influenza is a never-before-seen influenza A virus that has components from swine (pig) influenza viruses, human influenza virus, and avian (bird) influenza. Because this virus is made up of several different influenzas, it is no longer referred to as "swine flu." Swine and avian viruses do not usually cause illness in humans but can, at times, affect people who have close contact with these animals. This new virus has mutated (changed) and can be spread from person to person much the same as seasonal human influenza.
How common are H1N1 infections in the U.S.?
The first U.S. cases of the new H1N1 virus were reported in Southern California and Texas in early April. Since then almost every state has reported confirmed cases of this illness with totals currently exceeding 40,000 cases nationwide. Many areas continue to report widespread activity which means we are experiencing flu far beyond the normal season which usually ends in April. Experts expect that this outbreak of H1N1 flu will continue for some time.
Likewise, cases continue to be identified internationally as well but because this illness is now so widespread, public health agencies are no longer publishing case counts or listing the countries with ongoing outbreaks. Despite the worldwide occurrence, The Centers for Disease Control (CDC) and The World Health Organization (WHO) are still monitoring this situation very closely so they can quickly identify any change in transmission or severity.
Is there a test that can tell if I have this type of influenza?
Yes. Most laboratories can do a rapid flu test as a screen to see if you have influenza. If that test is positive for influenza A, additional testing can be done by the State Health Dept. Lab to determine if you have the H1N1 virus. Because the illness is being seen frequently in many of our communities, and because we are far beyond the time of year for seasonal flu, the CDC no longer recommends confirmatory testing and, instead, says that anyone with a positive rapid influenza test should be considered as having the H1N1 strain. As a result, the State Lab will only accept specimens for testing in specific situations including
How serious is an H1N1 infection?
It is not clear how severe the illness will be in the Fall and Winter of 2009, but at this time, H1N1 influenza causes an illness much like seasonal flu with relatively mild symptoms. In fact, most people recover without needing medical attention or receiving any medication. Symptoms can, however, be more severe and even life threatening, for people who have underlying medical conditions like renal failure, heart disease, asthma or diabetes, pregnant women or those whose immune system is suppressed by either illness or medication. If you are experiencing flu-like symptoms and are in one of these high risk groups be sure to contact your healthcare provider for advice.
Last Updated: 10/5/2009