H1N1: “Swine Flu” In Children
H1N1…those 4 characters are enough to strike fear in any parent. H1N1 is a strain of influenza type A. You may remember it from the 2009 pandemic, where it spread amongst people who had had contact with pigs, thus the common name swine flu. It soon spread to those who had no contact with pigs; however, the name stuck. It is no longer a pandemic, but does continue to infect people in lower numbers each year.
Symptoms are similar to the seasonal flu. H1N1 flu symptoms include fever, chills and body aches, cough, sore throat, runny nose, and/or a stuffy nose. Flu symptoms in children under 5 may be more severe.
Your child may have been tested for the flu before, where a long swab is swiped against the inside of the nose. However, the test for swine flu is different (although it also involves a swab of the nose), so it is only likely to be performed if your child is part of an at-risk population, such as: children under 5, children under 18 who are on aspirin therapy, children with weakened immune therapy, or children with chronic health issues such as with the heart, lungs, or nervous system.
As with any type of flu, antibiotics do not help because influenza is caused by a virus. Most antiviral drugs that work on the seasonal flu also work on the H1N1 strain of the flu. Other treatment usually consists of pain relievers/fever reducers such as acetaminophen or ibuprofen, and cold and flu medicines that help relieve symptoms like stuffy/runny noses and coughs may be given as well (ask the advice of a doctor before giving cough medicine to a child under 6). In severe cases, where the flu develops into something worse such as pneumonia or your child has trouble breathing, hospitalization may be necessary.
The flu shot remains the best way to protect yourself in advance of flu season. The flu vaccine is developed to specifically prevent against the strains of influenza virus that are most expected to be a problem in any given year. Thus, not every year will the flu shot specifically vaccinate against H1N1, however, it will protect against the strains predicted to be prevalent. Beyond the flu shot, handwashing can not be stressed enough, especially for those with babies too young for the flu shot (under 6 months) and young children in general.
If you are worried your child has swine flu, and are located in the Los Angeles area, see us at MVP Pediatric and Urgent Care. We have tests for H1N1.