Swine flu, which is an infection caused by influenza type A virus, became widespread during a global pandemic from 2009 to 2010—the first flu pandemic in more than 40 years. It was caused by a new flu virus known as H1N1, an influenza virus that’s a combination of swine, avian (bird), and human genes that mixed together in pigs and spread to humans. H1N1 is now considered a normal type of seasonal flu and is included in the flu vaccine.
There are several things that you can do to reduce the severity of symptoms and possibly shorten the duration of your illness, including over-the-counter (OTC) therapies, prescription drugs, and lifestyle changes. These may be especially important if you are at high risk for serious complications.
The symptoms of swine flu are the same as those of the seasonal flu, and they can be managed with the same OTC medicines. There are dozens of choices to help you deal with flu symptoms.
OTC medications can treat pain, fever, cough, congestion, sore throat, and more. Focusing on the symptoms that are bothering you the most is often the safest way to use OTC therapies.
Common choices for reducing your flu symptoms include multi-symptom remedies that combine pain relievers and fever reducers with decongestants, antihistamines, and sometimes cough suppressants or expectorants.
Make sure you follow the instructions for dosing and don’t take more than what’s advised. Also, be sure to talk to your pharmacist about all OTC and prescription medications that you’re taking so you can avoid additive side effects or harmful drug interactions.
If you choose to use a multi-symptom medicine, it’s important to pay attention to the ingredients in the medicines you are taking so that you won’t take duplicates of medications that have the same actions.
It is easy to overdose on too much of one type of medication ingredient if you didn’t realize that it was included in more than one of the OTC or prescription medicines you’ve taken.
There are some prescription medicines that can help with H1N1 swine flu. These are known as antiviral medications. The same antivirals that are used to fight seasonal flu can be used against H1N1 swine flu.
Tamiflu (oseltamivir phosphate) is the most commonly prescribed antiviral medicine for the flu.
If Tamiflu is used within the first 48 hours of the onset of symptoms, it can shorten the duration of the illness and lessen the severity of the symptoms. This was especially important during the 2009 pandemic.
Other antivirals include Relenza (zanamivir), Rapivab (peramivir), and Xofluza (baloxavir marboxil). Tamiflu is taken orally as a pill or liquid suspension. Relenza is an inhaled powder, Rapivab is an IV (intravenous) medicine, and Xofluza is taken orally.
Self-care goes a long way when you get sick with H1N1 swine flu. Make sure you get enough rest so your body can fight the virus and heal. Be sure to drink plenty of fluids—water and electrolyte drinks are the best options to stay hydrated.
Running a humidifier can help make your breathing a little easier if you are congested or if you have a cough or a sore throat.
Although it is difficult, time is the best remedy for any type of flu. Because it is caused by a virus, it can’t be cured and must run its course.
It’s very important to seek medical attention if you develop severe symptoms, like difficulty breathing—such symptoms need to be treated.
Stay home from work or school for as long as you have a fever. H1N1 swine flu is contagious as early as 24 hours before symptoms start and as long as your symptoms are present. It typically lasts for about a week, but it can last longer.
There are many alternative medicine supplements that people use to fight or prevent the flu. Although there is little convincing evidence for their efficacy, some of the most popular are:
- Vitamin C
- Cinnamon and Honey
Although some of these are promising, all of these supplements need to be studied further to determine whether they are effective in treating or preventing the flu. It’s also important to remember that they can have side effects even though they are “natural.”
If you have any type of chronic medical condition, talk to your healthcare provider before taking any supplements or herbal remedies to be sure they will not negatively affect your health or interact with any of your regular medicines.
If you think you have H1N1 swine flu—or any type of flu—talk to your healthcare provider about which treatment options are best for you.
H1N1 Swine Flu Doctor Discussion Guide
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Frequently Asked Questions
Where did H1N1 originate?
A study from 2016 found that the H1N1 virus likely began in Mexico, where the disease circulated in pigs before being transmitted to humans. When the virus was analyzed in 2009, some gene segments were found to have originated from swine influenza in North American pigs and some from pigs in Europe and Asia. The virus most likely emerged from a reassortment, when two or more flu viruses swapped genetic segments.
How can you catch the H1N1 virus?
You can catch H1N1 the same way that you get the flu. You might get it through droplets in the air when someone coughs or sneezes. You can also catch it if you touch your nose or mouth after you’ve touched a surface that was contaminated.