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H1N1 influenza virus (swine flue)


Where does the H1N1 virus come from ?

The 2009 H1N1 influenza virus (also known as "swine flue", due to its genetic similarities with influenza viruses normally occurring in pigs) made its first appearance in North America in April 2009 and then rapidly spread worldwide, becoming the predominant influenza virus in circulation all over the world, officially declared as the new influenza pandemic virus by the WHO in June 2009.

Since this influenza virus subtype is relatively new, most people are not immune to it. This means that the probably of falling ill with influenza after exposure to H1N1 virus is significant.

This is the reason why worldwide surveillance and monitoring are paramount for the early detection of H1N1 influenza outbreaks. According to the last WHO report (5 February 2010), the 2009 H1N1 influenza virus continues to be the main influenza virus circulating worldwide. However in the last few months it has been observed a global overall decline of influenza cases due to this virus.

In North Africa and in certain areas of South and East Asia and of Eastern Europe, pandemic influenza transmission continues to remain active, although geographically localized, while in other parts of the world except for sporadic or localized cases the H1N1 activity is decreasing or remains low.

H1N1 virus Symptoms

Symptoms of H1N1 influenza (or pandemic influenza A) are not very different from those of seasonal flu and can include fever, cough, sore throat, headache, body aches, fatigue and sometimes diarrhea and vomiting. Although some cases of severe illness and death have been reported, most cases of H1N1 influenza are mild and resolve on their own within 4-5 days.

To date most cases have occurred in infants, children and younger adults, which therefore have been shown the most susceptible to H1N1 virus infection.

Although H1N1 influenza symptoms are generally mild, certain groups of patients are particularly at risk of developing serious illness or respiratory complications. These include children under 2 years of age, old people above 65 years of age, pregnant women, people affected by diabetes or chronic cardio-respiratory diseases and those with an impaired immune system.

As a result, these people should take particular health precautions when travelling abroad, especially in those countries where the risk of contagion is still present. Of course the most obvious preventive measure is to postpone the trip. However, when this is not possible, these patients should consider taking antiviral medications with them on their journey.

H1N1 virus Treatment*

The treatment of H1N1 influenza in otherwise healthy adults usually involves rest and the use of traditional anti-pyretic medications to relieve fever, analgesics to relieve body aches, and anti-cough medications to reduce cough. For patients who are at risk of developing severe or complicated illness (see above), it is advisable to take specific antiviral medications which can be obtained with the prescription of a doctor.

The main preventive measures include vaccination (for people at the highest risk of contagion or complications), as well as general hygiene measures.

In this respect it is important to remember that the H1N1 influenza virus spreads from person to person mainly through coughs or sneezes of people who are infected, but also through casual contact with objects which have been contaminated by nasal or buccal secretions of infected people (e.g. towels, handkerchiefs, glasses).

Therefore the most important and effective preventive hygiene measures include: staying at home when sick, avoiding close contact with sick people, washing one's hands after coughing or sneezing (with or without using a handkerchief), throwing away the handkerchief after using it and avoiding using the same towels or drinking from the same glass as an infected person. Finally, it is important to remember that getting sufficient international health insurance coverage is always a fundamental safety measure.


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*Always seek professional medical advise from a qualified doctor before undergoing any treatment.