Swine Flu: What Moms Need to Know Right Now

Unless you’ve been living in a remote cave, you’ve probably heard lots about swine flu lately. (It’s also referred to as the H1N1 virus.) Some of it is pretty scary stuff. And that’s why it’s so important for moms to have the facts about the illness and be as prepared as possible in preventing it and spotting the symptoms of it.

NOTE: We heard recently from several moms who tell us there is a student at a middle school in Fayetteville who has a confirmed case of swine flu.

Now that school has started again, it’s especially critical for mothers to be armed with good information because we all know how easily germs can be shared among kids in school. We interviewed Dr. Brad Johnson, Vice Presdient of Emergency Services for Mercy Health System of Northwest Arkansas to learn what moms need to know about this new strain of influenza.

The following Q & A was compiled using Dr. Johnson’s comments as well as information provided on the website of the Centers for Disease Control. As always, use this article for informative purposes only and always ask your own doctor for medical advice that is best for you.

What are the symptoms of swine flu?

In the majority of cases, symptoms are identical to the common flu that we see seasonally. According to the CDC, symptoms of swine flu infections can include:

  • fever (usually high, but unlike seasonal flu, is sometimes absent)
  • cough
  • runny nose or stuffy nose
  • sore throat
  • body aches
  • headache
  • chills
  • fatigue or tiredness, which can be extreme
  • diarrhea or vomiting, sometimes, but more commonly seen than with seasonal flu.

Serious Swine Flu Symptoms

More serious symptoms that indicate a child or adult with Swine Flu needs urgent medical care include:

  • fast breathing or trouble breathing
  • bluish or gray skin color
  • not drinking enough fluids
  • severe or persistent vomiting
  • not waking up or not interacting
  • being so irritable that the child doesn’t want to be held
  • flu-like symptoms improve but then return with fever and worse cough

How are the symptoms of swine flu different than regular flu?

The symptoms are very similar, at least initially. The most concerning thing that makes Swine Flu potentially more serious is its tendency to infect lower airways, often progressing to pneumonia and difficulty breathing.

Who is most at risk for catching swine flu?

Although any of us can potentially “catch it,” it’s more concerning in certain populations. Most U.S. cases of H1N1 swine flu have been in older children and young adults. It’s not clear why, and it’s not clear whether this will change.

There is a possibility that older folks may have some immunity as they may have been “historically” exposed to a virus with similar characteristics at an earlier stage in their lives and that younger adults and kids may lack this protective immunity, since H1N1 is a “novel” virus to their systems. It is still possible, however, that this virus will affect many adults, and only time will tell.

The following groups are at particularly high risk of severe disease or bad outcomes if they get the flu:

  • pregnant women
  • young children, especially those under 12 months of age
  • elderly people (Relatively few swine flu cases have been seen in people over the age of 65.)
  • people with heart problems
  • people with liver problems
  • people with kidney problems
  • people with blood disorders (including sickle cell disease)
  • people with neurologic disorders
  • people with metabolic disorders, including diabetes
  • people with immune suppression (including HIV infection, cancer chemotherapy patients, transplant patients)
  • nursing home residents or other chronic-care facility residents

Next Wednesday, we’ll publish the second part of Dr. Johnson’s Q&A about swine flu. The article will cover questions about how the virus is spread, how long it incubates, how doctors test for it, vaccines, treatments, and — most importantly — how to help prevent transmission of the virus.