Seasonal Flu and Swine Flu Fundamentals

To keep your family healthy and safe this flu season, it’s important to know all you can about the two types of influenza circulating. Seasonal flu and H1N1 (swine flu) share some important similarities, but they also differ in critical ways. Here are the flu fundamentals on everything from symptoms to prevention.

Seasonal and Swine Flu Differences

Who’s at risk: Seasonal flu and swine the joys of the flu2flu appear to infect different populations. For seasonal flu, the elderly are the most likely to contract the virus and to develop complications. For swine flu, children and young adults are at highest risk. “While older adults can get H1N1, it is infecting those 25 and younger at a much higher rate,” explains Dr. Aaron Milstone, an infectious disease specialist at Johns Hopkins Children’s Center in Baltimore.

Vaccines: Because swine flu and seasonal flu are different illnesses, they involve two separate flu vaccines. That means there is one vaccine to protect against seasonal flu and a second to prevent H1N1. Both vaccines can be delivered by either nasal spray or injection.

Seasonal and Swine Flu Similarities

Symptoms: Both viruses usually trigger fever, cough, runny nose or congestion, and body aches. “The viruses are very similar in terms of the symptoms they cause,” says Dr. Matthew Davis, associate professor of pediatrics and internal medicine at the Child Health Evaluation and Research Unit of the University of Michigan Medical School.

Red-flag warnings: Most people with swine flu and seasonal flu get a mild illness that might make them feel miserable for a few days but isn’t life-threatening. But with both types of flu, it’s important to watch for red-flag warning signs that suggest a person is developing severe complications.

  • In children, look for fast breathing or breathing difficulty. Also, act fast if skin appears bluish or the child has a fever with a rash. Failure to wake up or interact, and extreme irritability, are also warning signs. In addition, symptoms that improve but then return with fever and a worse cough need immediate attention.
  • In adults, red flags include breathing difficulty, pain or pressure in the chest or abdomen, sudden dizziness, confusion, or severe or persistent vomiting.

Prevention: Both viruses are transmitted through tiny amounts of mucus released when you talk, sneeze or cough, explains Dr. Robert W. Frenck Jr., professor of pediatrics in the division of infectious diseases at Cincinnati Children’s Hospital Medical Center. You can prevent the spread of both flu viruses by developing these healthy habits:

  • Wash your hands. Several times a day, wash your hands with soap and water, especially before eating. If you don’t have sink access, use an alcohol-based hand sanitizer.
  • Cover your cough. If you feel the urge to cough or sneeze, cover your mouth with a tissue and then throw the tissue away. If you don’t have a tissue handy, cough into your elbow.
  • Stay home. If you get sick, plan on staying home for four days, or until the fever has been gone for 24 hours without the aid of fever-reducing medication.
  • Get vaccinated. “Vaccination is the best way to prevent influenza, whether it’s seasonal flu or H1N1,” says Dr. Davis. To find H1N1 and seasonal flu vaccination clinics near you, contact your local or state health department.


Pediatric Safety Editor’s Notes

  • With regards to vaccinations for the 2010-2011 flu season, the CDC states that “Each year, the seasonal influenza vaccine contains three influenza viruses – one influenza A (H3N2) virus, one influenza A (H1N1) virus, and one influenza B virus. The 2009 H1N1 influenza virus strain is included in the 2010-2011 seasonal flu vaccine because scientists continue to see this virus strain circulate in the U.S.” UPDATE: The H1N1 vaccine was included in the 2010-2011 seasonal flu shot

About the Author

Erin O'Donnell is a freelance health writer based in Milwaukee. She was editor of Natural Health magazine, and she writes about health for The Boston Globe Magazine.


2 Responses to “Seasonal Flu and Swine Flu Fundamentals”

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