It’s hard to tell whether you have swine flu or seasonal flu, because most symptoms are the same. If you have swine flu, you may be more likely to feel sick and your stomach and throw up than with regular flu. But a lab test is the only way to know. Even a rapid flu test you can get in your doctor’s office won’t tell you for sure.
To test for swine flu, your doctor runs a swab up the inside of your nose around the back of your throat. But the test isn’t as common or widespread as those for regular flu. So the only people who really need to be tested are those in the hospital or those at high risk for life-threatening problems from swine flu. These include:
- Children under 5 years old
- People 65 or older
- Children and teens (under age 18) who are getting long-term aspirin therapy and who might be at risk for Reye’s syndrome after being infected with swine flu. Reye’s syndrome is a life-threatening illness linked to aspirin use in children.
- Pregnant women
- Adults and children with chronic lung, heart, liver, blood, nervous system, neuromuscular, or metabolic problems
- Adults and children who have weakened immune systems (including those who take medications to suppress their immune systems or who have HIV)
- People in nursing homes and other long-term care facilities
Some of the same antiviral drugs that are used to treat seasonal flu also work against H1N1 swine flu. Oseltamivir (Tamiflu), peramivir (Rapivab), and zanamivir (Relenza) seem to work best, although some kinds of swine flu don’t respond to oseltamivir.
These drugs can help you get well faster. They can also make you feel better. They work best when you take them within 48 hours of the first flu symptoms, but they can help even if you get them later on.
Antibiotics won’t be effective because flu is caused by a virus, not bacteria.
Over-the-counter pain remedies and cold and flu medications can help relieve aches, pains, and fever. Don’t give aspirin to children under age 18 because of the risk of Reye’s syndrome. Make sure that over-the-counter cold medications do not have aspirin before giving them to children.
The same flu vaccine that protects against seasonal flu also protects against the H1N1 swine flu strain. You can get it as a shot or as a nasal spray. Either way, it “teaches” your immune system to attack the real virus.
Besides a flu shot, there are other things you can do to stay healthy:
- Wash your hands throughout the day with soap and water. Sing the “Happy Birthday” song twice to make sure you’ve washed long enough. Or use an alcohol-based hand sanitizer.
- Don’t touch your eyes, nose, or mouth.
- Avoid people who are sick.