Your Guide to the H1N1 Flu
H1N1 (swine) flu is a fixture in news headlines these days and CFS patients have many questions about the illness and immunizations.
First, some background. The World Health Organization (WHO) takes responsibility for monitoring the possibility of a pandemic. Pandemic means the spread of an infectious disease throughout many regions or even worldwide. On June 11, the WHO raised the pandemic threat level to 6, its highest level. This means that there are community level outbreaks and a global pandemic is under way. (see www.flu.gov)
What makes this flu virus different from others? The particular flu virus is new and one that our immune systems have not seen. The flu virus changes and this is why new flu vaccines are produced each year. Most of the time, the flu virus comes from other flu viruses that have been circulating in the human population.
However, flu viruses are also found in pigs and birds and the characteristics of this virus allow it to “mix and match.” The flu virus has eight different genes inside its capsule. When conditions are right, flu viruses from different species can mix into a variety of combinations as shown in this picture. As you can see, this new flu virus called H1N1, contains genes from flu viruses from pigs, birds and humans and this particular virus is known as “swine” flu. This swine flu is new and unfamiliar to our immune systems making it easier for this swine flu virus to make people sick and spread.
Flu viruses spread by aerosol – the spray that is generated from a sneeze or a cough. Everyone needs to know good sneeze and cough hygiene. This means sneezing or coughing into the crook of your arm (your “sneeze pocket”), rather than covering your mouth with your hand like many of us were taught to do as kids. If the cough or sneeze pocket approach is not yet habit, cover your nose and mouth with a tissue when you cough or sneeze and then throw it in the trash – don’t reuse it and don’t use cloth hankies. Try to not touch your eyes, nose and mouth and get in the habit of regularly washing your hands, especially after you cough or sneeze. Alcohol-based hand cleaners are also effective. If you get sick or you know there is flu-like illness circulating in your community, stay home. If you get sick, stay home for 7 days after your symptoms begin or until you have been symptom-free for 24 hours. The less any virus spreads, the faster it can be contained and subside. Make sure you have about a week or two of food supplies at home so that if the flu is circulating in your community, you can minimize trips to public places where exposure risk might be greater.
As the swine flu virus circulates, there is a possibility for more mixing and matching of genes as shown in the cartoon above. A recent study of the virus indicates that it can reach deep into the respiratory system and the intestines, which may explain why its symptoms are different from seasonal flu. Flu viruses take a toll on people who have medical conditions such as asthma or immune deficiencies. CFS sufferers may also be at increased risk of complications from swine flu so it is important to be prepared.
Vaccination is the cornerstone of flu prevention and a vaccine for this swine flu virus is currently being produced but this process takes several months. However, some patients with CFS report more complications following routine vaccinations and recommendations for persons with CFS vary amoung experts. The first report of a case of CFS following H1N1 infection was reported in the Journal of Clinical Pathology, by Dr. Roz Vallings of New Zealand. The CFIDS Association and the IACFS/ME have asked CDC to prioritize post flu CFS in the agency's surveillance program.
"Complacency, not overreaction, is the greatest danger posed by the flu pandemic," according to a recent article in Nature magazine. The CFIDS Association is committed to serving as a credible voice to inform you about the risks and uncertainties surrounding pandemic flu. This information will help you help yourself, your family and your community be prepared for what unfolds with this swine flu virus.
Links to articles about the H1N1 flu from Nature magazine:
Last updated November 3, 2009
CFIDSLink is offered free-of-charge to anyone who requests it. Please help us continue being able to provide this service. Donate now.