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Swine Flu

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KEY POINTS

  • Swine flu is a disease that pigs (swine) can get. It can spread within a group of pigs that live together. The virus can be spread from swine to humans. Someone it can also be spread to other people when someone coughs or sneezes, or if you touch something with the virus on it.
  • The flu vaccine is the best way to help prevent swine flu. Washing hands often is also important. Treatment includes rest, drinking plenty of liquids, and sometimes medicine for pain or fever or to shorten the time your child is sick.
  • Talk to your child’s healthcare provider right away if your child has heart disease, asthma, chronic bronchitis, kidney disease, diabetes, or another long-term medical problem, or is receiving chemotherapy for cancer, and has flu symptoms.

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What is flu?

Swine flu is a disease that pigs (swine) can get. It can spread within a group of pigs that live together. The pigs may have mild symptoms, or they may have breathing problems, fever, coughing, sneezing, and watery eyes and nose. The main swine flu viruses infecting pigs currently are H1N1, H3N2, and H1N2, though other viruses may also cause swine flu in pigs.

Viruses can change and jump from one kind of animal to another, such as from cattle to deer, or from animals to people such as from pigs or birds to humans. The swine flu virus can be passed to people who work with or are exposed to the infected pigs.

Swine flu in humans is an infection currently caused by the H1N1v or H3N2v virus. The “v” (variant) means that the virus changed from infecting only pigs to also being able to infect humans. A person can pass a swine flu infection from these viruses to another person.

Infection with swine flu virus is like flu from any other virus. Flu symptoms may be mild, or flu can be more serious and lead to ear, sinus, and chest infections. Pneumonia can also be a result of the flu. It can be caused by the flu virus itself or by bacteria infecting lung tissues that have been damaged by the virus. Children whose immune systems are weak and children with chronic medical problems such as heart or lung disease or diabetes are at risk for more severe symptoms or problems.

What is the cause?

The H1N1v or H3N2v virus can be passed from swine to humans through:

  • Working with swine including raising swine, feeding swine, showing swine, or cleaning areas where swine live
  • Visiting a swine farm or walking through a barn or petting zoo that has swine, especially if the swine were sick

Swine flu can be passed from an infected person to another person, just like any other cold or flu. Your child can be exposed by being within 6 feet (2 meters) of an infected person who has been around swine. The virus is in mucus and saliva and can spread to others when someone coughs or sneezes. People can also get swine flu if they touch something with the flu virus on it such as doorknobs or hands, and then touch their mouth, nose, or eyes.

Swine flu is not spread by eating pork.

What are the symptoms?

Swine flu symptoms are the same as seasonal flu. Your child may feel fine one hour and feel sick the next. Flu symptoms may be different from person to person. Some of the common symptoms include:

  • Chills, sweating, and fever
  • Muscle or body aches
  • Tiredness
  • Runny or stuffy nose
  • Headache
  • Sore throat
  • Cough

Swine flu symptoms usually last 3 to 7 days. Your child may start feeling better after the first 2 days or so.

How is it diagnosed?

Your child’s healthcare provider will ask about your child’s symptoms and whether your child has been around swine and examine your child. The diagnosis is usually based on your child’s symptoms. There are lab tests for flu, but in most cases, no test is needed.

How is it treated?

Usually you can treat the symptoms for any type of flu at home.

  • Make sure your child gets plenty of rest.
  • Make sure your child drinks a lot of clear liquids. Water, broth, juice, or an oral rehydration solution (ORS) such as Pedialyte are best. One way to tell if your child is drinking enough liquid is to look at the color of your child’s urine. It should be very light yellow.
  • Give your child acetaminophen or ibuprofen for fever and pain relief. Nonsteroidal anti-inflammatory medicines (NSAIDs), such as ibuprofen, naproxen, and aspirin, may cause stomach bleeding and other problems. Read the label and give as directed. Check with your healthcare provider before you give any medicine that contains aspirin or salicylates to a child or teen. This includes medicines like baby aspirin, some cold medicines, and Pepto-Bismol. Children and teens who take aspirin are at risk for a serious illness called Reye’s syndrome. Acetaminophen may cause liver damage or other problems. Read the label carefully and give your child the correct dose as directed. Do not give more doses than directed. To make sure you don’t give your child too much, check other medicines your child takes to see if they also contain acetaminophen. Unless recommended by your healthcare provider, your child should not take this medicine for more than 5 days.
  • If your child’s nose or sinuses get congested, a decongestant medicine may help. Taking a decongestant may help prevent ear or sinus infections.

Your healthcare provider can prescribe antiviral medicine that may make flu symptoms less severe. It is usually only prescribed if your child is at high risk for complications. The medicine can be taken as a tablet or nasal spray. Usually it is taken for only a few days after your child gets sick. Even if your child takes antiviral medicine, your child can pass the flu virus to other people. It is still important for your child to wash hands often and cover the mouth and nose when coughing or sneezing.

Talk to your healthcare provider right away if your child has symptoms of the flu and:

  • Your child has heart problems, asthma, kidney disease, diabetes, or another chronic medical problem or is receiving chemotherapy for cancer
  • Your child’s immune system does not work normally such as because your child takes steroid medicine for a medical problem
  • Your child’s symptoms get worse or your child has painful cough, is coughing up mucus, or has trouble breathing. These can be signs of pneumonia.

Ask your child’s healthcare provider:

  • How and when you will get your child’s test results
  • How long it will take to recover from this illness
  • If there are activities your child should avoid, and when your child can return to normal activities
  • How to take care of your child at home
  • What symptoms or problems you should watch for and what to do if your child has them

Make sure you know when your child should come back for a checkup. Keep all appointments for provider visits or tests.

How can I help prevent flu?

The flu vaccine is the best way to help prevent the flu. For 2018-2019, flu vaccines will protect against several specific flu viruses.

The vaccine itself will not give your child the flu. However, if your child was exposed to the flu just before getting the vaccine, your child may still get sick. If your child does get the flu after getting the vaccine, your child will not get as sick as without the vaccine.

The flu vaccine is recommended for children 6 months and older. It’s especially important for those with a chronic illness. The shot contains killed virus and is safe for everyone age 6 months and older. The flu vaccine is usually given as a shot in the arm. It may be given as a nasal spray for some people.

Your child should get a new flu shot every year because the vaccine wears off over time and because it is changed each year to protect against the current year’s most likely flu strains. It’s best to get the new vaccine as soon as it’s available each year before the start of flu season. However, if the vaccine is still available, it can be helpful to get it anytime during the flu season. Flu season usually starts in October and can last through May.

Flu seasons can vary from region to region. If your child is at high risk for infection and will travel to an area where your child might be exposed to the flu, make sure your child has an up-to-date flu shot before the trip.

Other things to help avoid getting the flu include:

  • Make sure that your child washes hands often with soap and water. Wash for 20 seconds (long enough to sing the whole “Happy Birthday” song) or use an alcohol-based hand cleaner.
  • Teach your child to avoid touching the eyes, nose, or mouth when out in public.
  • Teach your child to stay at least 6 feet away from swine and people who are sick, if as much as possible.
  • Keep surfaces clean especially bedside tables, surfaces in the bathroom, and toys for children. Some viruses can live 2 hours or more on surfaces like cafeteria tables, doorknobs, and desks. Wipe them down with a household disinfectant according to directions on the label.

Your child should not go to school or work while sick.

Developed by Change Healthcare.
Pediatric Advisor 2019.4 published by Change Healthcare.
Last modified: 2019-01-29
Last reviewed: 2018-11-20
This content is reviewed periodically and is subject to change as new health information becomes available. The information is intended to inform and educate and is not a replacement for medical evaluation, advice, diagnosis or treatment by a healthcare professional.
© 2018 Change Healthcare LLC and/or one of its subsidiaries
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