The H1N1 Flu Virus

Frequently Asked Questions and Answers about the H1N1 Flu Virus from Health Canada:

Q1. What is the H1N1 Flu Virus?

H1N1 Flu Virus has been reported around the world, and the World Health Organization has declared it a pandemic influenza virus. Swine influenza (sometimes called swine flu) is a strain of the influenza virus that usually affects pigs, but which may also make people sick.

H1N1 Flu Virus is a respiratory illness that causes symptoms similar to those of the regular human seasonal flu. The symptoms include fever, fatigue, lack of appetite, coughing and sore throat. Some people with H1N1 Flu Virus have also reported vomiting and diarrhea.

Q2. How can an influenza virus spread from pigs to people?

Different strains of influenza are commonly circulating in our environment, including strains that can cause illness in humans, birds and pigs. Sometimes, humans and animals can pass strains of flu back and forth to one another through direct close contact – such as in pig production barns and livestock exhibits at fairs. For people in close contact with pigs, the recommendations to avoid infection are the same as for regular seasonal influenza – frequent handwashing, getting an annual flu shot, covering coughs and sneezes, and staying home when ill. When a swine influenza virus does affect a human, there is also a risk that the animal influenza can mutate and then spread directly between humans.

Q3. Is H1N1 Flu Virus contagious? How does it spread between people?

Yes, this virus is contagious. Since most of the people who have become ill have not been in direct contact with pigs, we know that the virus has spread from person to person.

More investigation is needed on how easily the virus spreads between people, but it is believed that it is spread the same way as regular seasonal influenza.

Influenza and other respiratory infections are transmitted from person to person when germs enter the nose and/or throat. Coughs and sneezes release germs into the air where they can be breathed in by others. Germs can also rest on hard surfaces like counters and doorknobs, where they can be picked up on hands and transmitted to the respiratory system when someone touches their mouth and/or nose.

Q4. Why are people concerned about this particular strain?

The strain of H1N1 Flu Virus is a new, or novel, influenza virus. Since this is a new strain, people will likely have no natural immunity to protect against the virus. International experts are concerned that this strain could spread quickly. Investigation is underway to learn more about the way the virus spreads. Governments around the world and the World Health Organization are engaged to investigate and address this situation.

Q5. Are all cases of H1N1 Flu Virus severe?

No. The majority of Canadian cases of H1N1 Flu Virus have experienced mild illness and have recovered at home. Overall, the WHO is describing this pandemic as moderate.

Q6. Should people be avoiding exposure to pigs?

Influenza viruses can be transmitted from pigs to people and vice versa via coughes and sneezes, but there are not many documented cases of this actually happening. This H1N1 Flu Virus is spreading between humans – not directly from pigs to people. As a result, there is no risk from proximity to healthy pigs. Because humans can also spread the disease to pigs, individuals with influenza symptoms should avoid close contact with pigs to reduce the risk of introducing a new influenza virus into domestic swine populations. Government officials are conducting investigations to find out more about how this particular strain of H1N1 Flu Virus spreads.