Swine flu in children
Swine flu is caused by a special strain of the influenza A virus called "H1N1." It is called swine flu because pigs with "the flu" seem to be the original source of the virus. This strain of the flu virus "learned" how to jump from pigs to humans. Now that humans have become infected, the virus is passed from person-to-person. Children as well as adults can get swine flu just as they can become infected with other more common forms of "the flu." The major concern about swine flu (H1N1) is that most people have never encountered this strain of influenza. Human immune systems have not had the time necessary to build a defense against swine flu. Scientists and doctors are constantly evaluating the rates and severity of infection to determine how to respond to the worldwide spread of the illness (called a "pandemic"). Evaluation and treatment for swine flu is similar to that for the common flu.
What is "swine flu?"
Swine flu is an illness caused by a special strain of the influenza A virus called "H1N1." Swine flu is a virus that affects pigs, however the virus has "learned" how to affect humans by changing its genes.
Who can get swine flu?
Anyone on the planet can get swine flu. As of June 26, 2009, there have been 21,449 cases of H1N1 influenza and 87 deaths due to swine flu reported in the United States. There have been almost 60,000 cases swine flu and 263 deaths due to the virus reported worldwide. Since swine flu may present similar to other common viral infections, testing may not have been done on many other cases. (Source: World Health Organization, Influenza A(H1N1) - update 54)
Can you get swine flu from pigs?
The virus was likely first transmitted to a human by a pig with the H1N1 strain of influenza A virus. There is no current evidence that properly cooked pork can transmit the virus to humans. The influenza A (H1N1) virus is killed by cooking temperatures of 160°F/70°C, therefore pork products should be prepared with these guidelines in mind.
Is swine flu dangerous?
Swine flu appears to be equally as dangerous as the common flu. Most infections are expected to be mild but some cases may be serious. Infants and children with other serious illness (i.e., heart disease) are probably at higher risk for developing severe disease.
What are the symptoms of swine flu?
The symptoms of swine flu are similar to the symptoms of the common flu...
- High fever (usually lasts 2-4 days)
- Malaise (generally feeling sick)
- Muscle aches
- Runny nose (although nasal congestion and runny nose are more characteristic of the common cold)
Red Flags (seek medical care immediately)
- Severe or persistent symptoms
- Infants and young children with the flu
- Ill-appearing child
- Not drinking fluids or not keeping them down
- Decreased urine output
- Excessive sleepiness, confusion or unusual behavior
- Blood in vomited material or stool
How is swine flu diagnosed?
Rapid tests for common influenza, parainfluenza, RSV and adenovirus can be done. If a sore throat is a predominant feature then a rapid test for Strep may be necessary. Blood tests and a chest x-ray can help determine if a serious infection is present, although this is usually not necessary.
Additional testing for swine flu can be sent to a state public health laboratory. Typically a small sample of nose secretions is obtained with a cotton swab or with a nasal washing (a small amount of saline is squirt into the nose and suctioned out).
How is swine flu treated?
Lots of fluids and rest. If the diagnosis is made within 48 hours of the beginning of symptoms, then antiviral medication can be given to shorten the course of the illness.
Zanamivir (Relenza®) - an inhaled medicine available for kids 7 and older (treats influenza A and B)
Oseltamivir (Tamiflu®) - an oral medicine available for kids 1 and older (treats influenza A and B)
Other medicines may be used to treat the symptoms:
- Fever & sore throat - ibuprophen and acetaminophen. These medicines usually make the child feel better and reduce sore throat, making it easier for the child to drink lots of fluids.
- Nasal congestion or runny nose - decongestants (*see note below), saline drops with nasal suctioning in infants, antihistamines (like Benadryl) may help but they are usually avoided due to the sedation side effect
- Cough - cough medicines (*see note below)
*Note - cough and decongestant medicines and typically not recommended for infants and don't work well in children less than 5 years old.
Aspirin should NOT be used due to the risk of Reye syndrome.
What are the possible complications of swine flu?
- Ear infection (otitis media)
- Severe infection
Can swine flu be prevented?
Development of a swine flu vaccine is underway. The influenza vaccine currently does not protect against swine flu. If you have a flu-like illness and symptoms are mild, your doctor may ask you to stay home and rest for several days.
This article is meant to be a brief overview. For more complete information, visit the CDC website or call your doctor.
Last Updated (Saturday, 04 July 2009 18:14)