In June 2009, the World Health Organization declared Influenza A H1N1 a pandemic, meaning this new strain of flu is affecting people throughout the world.

Though not as scary as it sounds (experts observe that the fatality rate for H1N1 seems to be about the same as that of regular seasonal flu), H1N1 is spreading rapidly, and young children are at a higher risk for serious complications.

At Mission Children's Hospital, we strongly encourage parents not to panic - but we also encourage you to take the necessary precautions to keep your children healthy. This includes becoming informed about H1N1, knowing what steps to take to prevent it, and finding out what to do if your child gets sick.

To help with this, we've provided important information every parent should know about H1N1, as well as resources for further reading. We also recommend that you talk to your children about H1N1 and how it can be prevented - remembering to be extra careful not to scare them.

If you have additional concerns about H1N1, talk with your family doctor or pediatrician.

Frequently Asked Questions About H1N1

What is H1N1 and how is it different from the regular flu?

H1N1, also known as swine flu, is a new kind of flu virus that is very different from the typical flu viruses we're used to. Though seasonal flu viruses frequently change from year to year, the variations remain closely related to each other. This means that people who've had the flu in the past usually have some form of immunity; in other words, their bodies have built up an ability to fight off the viruses. Because H1N1 is a new strain of flu completely unlike what we're used to, our bodies lack a defense against it, which is causing significantly more people to get sick.

What can my family do to avoid getting H1N1?

These simple, common sense strategies are your best defense against H1N1:

  • Make sure everyone in your family washes their hands properly with soap and water. (Alcohol-based hand sanitizers are effective too.) Sing the ABCs with your child while you both vigorously lather your palms, between fingers, around nail beds and the backs of your hands. Watch Elmo from Sesame Street talk about how to stay healthy by washing your hands.
  • Make sure your children wash their hands frequently throughout the day: after going to the bathroom; at mealtimes; after sneezing, coughing or blowing their nose; and whenever they've been out in public for a while.
  • Cover your nose and mouth when you cough. If you don't have a tissue handy, cough/sneeze into the crook of your arm or your shoulder.
  • Avoid touching your face, especially your eyes, nose and mouth.
  • Avoid close contact with people who have flu-like symptoms (fever, aches, sneezing, coughing, diarrhea).
  • Wash your hand towels in hot water every three to four days.
  • Get the H1N1 vaccine.

What is the H1N1 vaccine?

On September 15, 2009, the FDA approved four H1N1 vaccines - a nasal spray and three injectable versions. The pandemic flu vaccine is made the same way as the seasonal flu shot, except with a different influenza virus strain.

Learn more about the H1N1 Live Attenuated Intranasal Vaccine (the nasal spray).
Learn more about the H1N1 Inactivated Vaccine (the flu shot).

(Having trouble viewing the links above? Click here.)

Who should get the H1N1 vaccine?

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) recommends the following people get vaccinated against H1N1:

  • Pregnant women
  • All people from 6 months through 24 years of age
  • Persons aged 25 through 64 years who have health conditions associated with higher risk of medical complications from the flu
  • People 50 years of age or older
  • People of any age with certain chronic medical conditions
  • Household contacts and caregivers of children younger than 6 months of age
  • Household contacts and caregivers of persons at high risk for complications from the flu
  • Healthcare and emergency medical services personnel
  • People who live in nursing homes and other long-term care facilities

Is the vaccine safe?

We encourage you to take a few minutes to read through information provided by the CDC about the H1N1 vaccine safety, and if you have further questions, talk with your health care provider. The reassuring news is that based on clinical trials involving hundreds of healthy volunteers, the H1N1 vaccine has proven to be both safe and effective in activating a good immune response. In some cases, there have been rare adverse effects, but for most people, the benefits of the vaccine far outweigh the small risk involved.

How do you know if you have H1N1?

You may have the flu if you have some or all of these symptoms:

  • Fever (though not everyone with the flu will have a fever)
  • Cough
  • Sore throat
  • Runny or stuffy nose
  • Body aches
  • Headache
  • Chills
  • Fatigue
  • Diarrhea
  • Vomiting

You won't be able to tell the difference between seasonal flu and H1N1 without medical assistance. Only a health care provider or medical authority can confirm a case of H1N1. However, most people with flu symptoms do not need a test for H1N1 because the test results usually do not change how you are treated.

What do I do if someone in my family gets H1N1?

Chances are good that you or someone you know will be diagnosed with H1N1. If this happens, there are some key steps to take to minimize other family members' risk of catching it:

  • Keep the infected person's toothbrush separate from everyone else's toothbrushes. Once he or she has completely recovered, soak the toothbrush in boiling water to sterilize it, or just spring for a new one!
  • If possible, try to keep the sick person separate from other family members.
  • Make sure everyone in your family continues to practice good hygiene, especially thorough hand washing.

Learn more ways to protect yourself and the rest of your family from getting sick at Flu.gov.

How do I care for my child if he or she gets H1N1?

First, you should seek appropriate medical treatment from your family's health care provider. Once your child has been diagnosed and obtained proper medical care, he or she should not go to school or preschool. The CDC recommends that your child should stay home for at least 24 hours after the fever is gone, unless you need to get them further medical treatment or other necessities. Make sure your son or daughter 1) gets plenty of rest and 2) drinks lots of clear fluids to prevent dehydration.

When do I need to seek immediate medical care?

If you, your child or another family exhibits these symptoms, get medical help right away:

For children:

  • Fast breathing or trouble breathing
  • Bluish skin color
  • Not drinking enough fluids
  • Severe or persistent vomiting
  • Signs of dehydration, such as dizziness, absence of urination, or, if an infant, lack of tears when crying
  • Not waking up or not interacting
  • Being so irritable that the child does not want to be held
  • Fever with a rash
  • Seizures (uncontrolled convulsions)
  • Confusion or lack of responsiveness
  • Flu-like symptoms improve but then return with fever and worse cough

For adults:

  • Difficulty breathing or shortness of breath
  • Pain or pressure in the chest or abdomen
  • Sudden dizziness
  • Confusion
  • Severe or persistent vomiting
  • Signs of dehydration, such as dizziness when standing or absence of urination
  • Purple or blue discoloration of the skin or lips
  • Seizures (uncontrolled convulsions)
  • Flu-like symptoms improve but then return with fever and worse cough

Why won't the seasonal flu vaccine protect agains H1N1?

The regular flu vaccine does not contain the H1N1 flu strain; therefore, adults and children older than 6 months of age are encouraged to get the seasonal flu vaccine as well.

How many H1N1 flu shots do I need? How many does my child need?

The number of shots you need depends on how old you are. A single dose of the H1N1 vaccine will be sufficient to protect adults and children 10 years of age and older. Children under 10 (and older than 6 months) will need two doses of the H1N1 vaccine. The CDC recommends these shots be administered four weeks apart, though the second dose is considered valid if separated from the first dose by at least 21 days. Children under 6 months old should not receive the H1N1 vaccine.

Please note: The CDC's H1N1 vaccine recommendation for children is slightly different than that of seasonal flu. For seasonal flu, the CDC recommends children younger than 9 years old who are being vaccinated against influenza for the first time receive two doses. Infants younger than 6 months of age are too young to get the H1N1 and seasonal flu vaccines.

There are two ways the H1N1 and seasonal vaccines are administered (nasal spray and shots). Can I mix and match?

Anyone needing two does of the seasonal or H1N1 vaccine should stick to one form of inoculation.

Where can I get the H1N1 vaccine?

The H1N1 vaccine was first shipped to sites throughout the country beginning October 1. Some counties in western North Carolina, including Buncombe County, have received limited supplies of the vaccine, though more will be shipped soon. Regularly check your county's website for updated information about flu vaccination sites in your area. If you are a Buncombe County resident, visit buncombecounty.org or call the Buncombe County Flu Vaccine Hotline at 828-250-6400.

Flu Myths and Realities
Talking With Your Kids About H1N1
Centers for Disease Control and Prevention
N.C. Flu Preparedness