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Medical and Health Care / Insurance

Differences Between H1N1/09 Influenza (Swine Flu) and Seasonal Flu

The flu is an illness caused by the influenza virus, which multiplies inside the body, causing symptoms that include fevers and sore throats.

Nearly everyone has probably caught the flu at some point, and anyone who catches the flu gains resistance (immunity) against the virus that caused the illness. That’s why, in the past, there have been many people who were immune to whatever seasonal flu was going around.

The H1N1 flu strain that emerged in spring of 2009 was caused by a completely new virus that had never spread before. Because of that, no one is thought to have any resistance to this virus.

Characteristics of the New H1N1 Flu Strain

The main symptoms of the new H1N1 flu strain are as follows: (They are nearly identical to those of seasonal flus.)

Symptoms include sudden fever and coughing, a sore throat, and fatigue.
A runny nose, stuffed nose, and headaches may also be present.

Some people also experience gastrointestinal symptoms, such as nausea or diarrhea. This is thought to be one of the ways it differs from seasonal flus.
Most people experience a mild illness for several days and then recover.
However, some people experience a severe illness, so caution must be taken. In particular, those with chronic illnesses such as diabetes or asthma, as well as pregnant women, children, and the elderly, are at higher risk for severe illness than other people.

Influenza Transmission Routes

To know how to stop the spread of the flu, one must first understand how the flu is transmitted between people.

Influenza is primarily transmitted in two ways.

(1) Droplet Transmission
The flu spreads through the inhalation of droplets that are expelled when an infected person coughs or sneezes. Those within the zone affected by a cough or sneeze (up to two meters) are at high risk of infection.
(2) Contact Transmission
Saliva or nasal mucous from infected people spreads from hand to hand or transmits through contact with things like door knobs and hanging straps on trains.

However, the influenza virus cannot infect people simply through skin contact. The infection takes hold when the person touches their mouth or the mucous membrane of their nose or eyes with their hand. Diligently washing hands will therefore reduce the risk of contact transmission.

How to Not Catch the Flu

Infection is possible when a person inhales the droplets emitted by anyone nearby who coughs or sneezes without wearing a mask. Thus, one basic way to avoid the flu is to stay away from crowds of people at times and in places where the flu is going around.

In addition, there’s no way to prevent physical contact with the virus with certainty in places frequented by lots of people, such as supermarkets and trains, so it’s vital to wash hands upon returning home. Please diligently wash your hands before preparing food or engaging in other activities.

When washing your hands, wash thoroughly for at least 15 seconds using soap, being sure to wash your wrists and between your fingers as well. After washing, dry your hands thoroughly by wiping them on a clean towel.

Getting Examined by the Doctor

Just because you think you might have caught the flu doesn’t mean it’s absolutely necessary to get examined. Those with mild symptoms who can treat themselves using over-the-counter medicine at home don’t need to visit the hospital or see a doctor.

Currently, as a rule, everyone with fevers and other symptoms of H1N1/09 flu is being examined at regular hospitals and clinics, so anyone who suspects an H1N1/09 flu infection and wants a checkup should immediately go see their doctor to be examined.

Those wishing to be examined should wear a mask in order not to pass the infection on to others.

Those who are pregnant or who have existing medical conditions are thought to be at high risk of serious illness, so these people should seek early detection, and rapid cure.

Note: The following types of individuals are thought to be at particular risk of serious illness if they contract the H1N1/09 flu virus:

Pregnant women; infants; the elderly; and those with chronic respiratory illness, heart disease, metabolic disorders such as diabetes, impaired kidney function, and those with immune disorders (such as those on full body steroidal medication) are believed to have a higher risk of developing a serious illness due to the treatment and management of these conditions.

Those who are normally healthy should be examined at a hospital or clinic if they experience the following symptoms:

Quick breathing or difficulty breathing
Unnatural complexion (ashen or pale)
Persistent vomiting or diarrhea
Inability to calm down; lethargy; dull responses
Persistent symptoms that steadily worsen
Difficulty breathing or shortness of breath
Persistent chest pain
Persistent vomiting or diarrhea
Fever that lasts for 3 days or longer
Persistent symptoms that steadily worsen
Home Treatment Precautions

It can be very difficult to prevent contagion if you live with someone else who is infected. However, the following steps should be taken in order to prevent infection:

  • Diligently wash your hands after tending to the sick individual.
  • Children who are infected need looking after, but anyone who has a chronic illness or is pregnant should more thoroughly take steps to avoid illness, such as remaining in a separate room away from the sick individual.
  • If the person tending to a sick individual has a chronic illness or is pregnant, they should consult the family doctor as a precautionary measure. Preventative medication can be prescribed if the doctor deems it necessary.
  • Sick individuals should always wear masks. A mask only offers limited effectiveness against illness when worn by the person tending to someone sick, but wearing a mask when in contact with a sick individual can offer a measure of protection against infection.
  • The dishes and clothing used by sick individuals can be sanitized through normal washing and drying.
Going Out after Recovery

Sick individuals are still contagious to a certain degree even after their fever goes away. Put simply, you can still infect other people even after your fever lifts.

There is no obvious way of knowing when a person is no longer contagious, and it can vary greatly depending on the individual. You should try to wait until at least the second day after your fever lifts before going out.

The Safety and Efficacy of Vaccines

The flu vaccine is believed to be effective in preventing disease symptoms, lessening the effects of the flu, and preventing death in those get infected with the flu virus after vaccination.

However, flu vaccinations don't provide perfect immunity, and it is still possible to contract the flu after getting a flu shot. It's always important to take care to avoid getting infected.

In addition, the protection that flu vaccines provide against severe illness and death can be seen as a great societal advantage. Still, in rare cases, strong reactions (side-effects) to vaccines can occur, causing severe post-vaccination health complications.

Because of that, we would like all residents of Aichi to understand on an individual basis the benefits and risks of flu vaccines, and to decide for themselves whether to get the shot or not.