2009 H1N1 and Seasonal Flu: What to do if you get sick

  • Published
  • By Centers for Disease Control and Prevention
  • 71st Medical Group
This flu season, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention expect the 2009 H1N1 flu to cause illness, hospital stays and deaths in the United States along with the seasonal flu. In response, the CDC has recognized the symptoms, warning signs and procedures of treating the H1N1 virus.

H1N1 symptoms can include all or some of the following signs:
  • fever (not everyone with flu will have a fever)
  • cough
  • sore throat
  • runny or stuffy nose
  • body aches
  • headache
  • chills
  • fatigue
  • sometimes diarrhea and vomiting
People who become sick with flu-like symptoms this season should stay home and avoid contact with others except to receive medical care. Most people with the current H1N1 virus have experienced mild illness that did not require medical care or antiviral drugs. The same is true of the seasonal flu.

However, some people are more likely to get flu complications and they should talk to a health care provider about whether they need to be examined if they get flu symptoms this season. The people who should contact their health care provider are:
  • Children younger than 5, especially children younger than 2 years old
  • Adults 65 years of age and older
  • Pregnant women
People with certain medical conditions should also contact their health care provider. These conditions include: 
  • Asthma
  • Neurological and neuro-developmental conditions, including disorders of the brain, spinal cord, peripheral nerve and muscle such as cerebral palsy, epilepsy (seizure disorders), stroke, intellectual disability (mental retardation), moderate to severe developmental delay, muscular dystrophy or spinal cord injury.
  • Chronic lung disease, such as chronic obstructive pulmonary disease and cystic fibrosis
  • Heart disease, such as congenital heart disease, congestive heart failure and coronary artery disease
  • Blood disorders, such as sickle cell disease
  • Endocrine disorders, such as diabetes mellitus
  • Kidney disorders
  • Liver disorders
  • Metabolic disorders, such as inherited metabolic disorders and mitochondrial disorders
  • Weakened immune system due to disease or medication, such as people with HIV or AIDS, or cancer, or those on chronic steroids   
In addition to traditional symptoms, there are emergency warning signs. Anyone who has them should get medical care right away.

Emergency warning signs in children:

  • fast breathing or trouble breathing
  • bluish skin color
  • not drinking enough fluids
  • not waking up or not interacting
  • being so irritable that the child does not want to be held
  • flu-like symptoms improve but then return with fever and worse cough
  • fever with a rash
Emergency warning signs in adults:
  • difficulty breathing or shortness of breath
  • pain or pressure in the chest or abdomen
  • sudden dizziness
  • confusion
  • severe or persistent vomiting
If someone is only a little sick, he or she should not go to the emergency room. The ER should be used for people who are very sick. However, it is recommended for people to go to the ER if emergency warning signs of flu sickness appear. Patients should be careful about visiting the ER, because if they are not sick with the flu, they may catch it from people who do have it.

Currently, there are medicines to treat 2009 H1N1. There are drugs that doctors may prescribe for treating both seasonal and 2009 H1N1 called "antivirals." These drugs can help patients overcome the virus faster than traditional methods, and they may also prevent serious complications.

This flu season, antiviral drugs are being used mainly to treat people who are very sick, such as people who need to be hospitalized, and to treat sick people who are more likely to get serious flu complications. Health care providers will decide whether antiviral drugs are needed to treat an illness.

CDC recommends that people with the flu stay home for at least 24 hours after their fever has ended. Exceptions to this are getting medical care or essential actions when no one else can help. The fever should dissipate regardless of a fever-reducing medicine like Tylenol. People with the flu should stay home from work, school, travel, shopping, social events and public gatherings.

For people who are sick, they should stay away from others as much as possible to prevent spreading the illness to others. Those who must leave home to get medical care should wear a face mask or cover coughs and sneezes with a tissue. Frequent hand washing helps prevent spreading the flu to others.

The information for "Taking Care of a Sick Person in Your Home" is available on the CDC Web site.

For more information, visit www.cdc.gov or www.flu.gov or call 1-800-CDC-INFO.