How to beat H1N1

By Dr. Sharmila Samaranayake
Influenza H1N1 is a flu-like illness. It spreads from human to human via secretions of nose and droplets from coughing. It is the same illness which was earlier called “ Swine Flu”. This does not occur by contact with pigs so the earlier term “ Swine flu” is not used now. Since it’s a new virus most of us are not immune to this and this novel influenza has been spreading very fast in a non-immune society. It is more common among children and young adults.

What are the symptoms ?

Generally it is a mild illness. So avoid undue panic. The usual symptoms are fever, headache, body aches, sore throat, cough, runny nose and occasionally vomiting and diarrhoea. It is like the usual common cold. So H1N1 influenza cannot be differentiated from any other influenza clinically. The bad news is that a small percentage can develop pneumonia. Then you may find it difficult to breathe, the illness will worsen with time with or without high fever.

Who should be more careful?

There is a high-risk group who can get severe illness. They are extremes of age ( those less than 2 years and above 65 years old), pregnant women, patients already suffering from chronic diseases like diabetes, asthma, kidney diseases, cancer, patients on long term prednisolone etc. So if you fall into this group be extra careful.

Is treatment available?

Specialized investigations and treatment with antivirals are available at the National Hospital, the Lady Ridgeway Hospital for Children, the Kalubowila General Hospital and the Infectious Diseases Hospital including many hospitals outside Colombo. But it is only needed for patients with severe illness and high-risk group patients. So all need not panic and undergo investigations. Even if you develop severe illness, our country is equipped with necessary medicines and resources. So don’t worry.

How do I protect myself from getting it?

  • Avoiding crowds
  • Washing hands regularly with soap and water
  • Not touching your nose or mouth unnecessarily
  • If you meet a patient suffering from a runny nose at least keep a distance of 1 metre or arm’s length.
  • Increase airflow and ventilation in offices and households by opening windows
  • Using masks is a controversial issue in Sri Lanka. If you are wearing one make sure it is worn correctly. It should cover the nose and mouth. Incorrect use can increase risk of transmission. It is better if patients wear it to prevent spread rather than a healthy person wearing it to stop getting it.

What should you do if you get the above symptoms ?

  • Bed rest till symptoms subside. Stay at home.
  • Avoid crowds. It helps to prevent spread.
  • Take a good nutritious diet and drink plenty of fluids
  • Advice and symptomatic management from your family physician may help. Special investigations and admission are not necessary for mild illness.
  • Wash hands regularly with soap and water.
  • Always use a handkerchief or a tissue whenever you sneeze or cough. If using a tissue make sure you dispose of it properly. If you do not have a hanky or a tissue you can use your elbow whenever you sneeze. Don’t use your hand as it may spread the virus to other surfaces when you touch them .
  • Rarely the illness can get severe in a few who may develop pneumonia or fits and seem confused or have an altered level of consciousness. You have to seek medical advice especially if you have high fever, increasing shortness of breath, altered consciousness, increasing severity of symptoms and debility.

The writer holds a Diploma in Child Health and is attached to the Health Education Bureau

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