Updated on 12 December 2013

H1N1 is a flu virus. When it was first detected in 2009, it was called “swine flu” because the virus was similar to those found in pigs.

The H1N1 virus is currently a seasonal flu virus found in humans. Although it also circulates in pigs, cannot get it by eating properly handled and cooked pork or pork products. H1N1 virus and was first observed in Mexico. Swine flu is a respiratory disease caused by influenza viruses that infect the respiratory tract of pigs and result in a barking cough, decreased, nasal secretions, and listless behavior.




  • H1N1 flu is caused by a virus. The most common subtype, or strain, is influenza type A H1N1, and this subtype has also caused infection in people.
  • H1N1 flu virus is contagious. Person-to-person transmission of H1N1 flu virus occurs, and the virus is easily spread among people. It is believed that it is spread the same way as regular seasonal influenza. A person infected with H1N1 flu virus can infect others starting 1 day before symptoms develop and up to 7 or more days after becoming ill.
  • Influenza is spread from person to person when the virus enters the body through the eyes, nose, and/or mouth. Coughing and sneezing release the germs into the air, where they can be breathed in by others.
  • The virus can also rest on hard surfaces like doorknobs, ATM buttons, and counters. A person who touches these surfaces with their hands and then touches their eyes, mouth, or nose can become infected with the virus. We cannot get infected with the H1N1 flu virus from eating pork products that have been properly cooked – heated through to 71°C (160°F).

Symptoms of Swine Flu

Symptoms of the swine flu are the same as those of seasonal influenza, and can include:

  • Cough
  • Fever
  • Sore throat
  • Stuffy or runny nose
  • Body aches
  • Headache
  • Chills
  • Fatigue
  • Nausea and vomiting
  • Diarrhea


How swine flu spreads

The rapid spread of flu

Evidence from previous pandemics suggests that one person will infect about two others, and that flu spreads particularly rapidly in closed communities such as schools or residential homes.

People are most infectious soon after they develop symptoms, although they can spread the virus for up to five days after the start of symptoms (for children this is seven days).
The swine flu virus is spread in exactly the same way as the common cold and other flu viruses.
The virus is contained in the millions of tiny droplets that come out of the nose and mouth when someone coughs or sneezes.

Everyday items at home and in public places may have traces of the virus. These include food, door handles, remote controls, hand rails and computer keyboards.



Good hygiene
Preventing the spread of germs is the most effective way to slow the spread of diseases such as swine flu:

  • Ensure everyone washes their hands regularly with soap and water.
  • Clean surfaces regularly to get rid of germs.
  • Use tissues to cover your mouth and nose when you cough or sneeze.
  • Injection and nasal spray vaccinations are available to prevent swine flu.
  • Hand sanitization is important to stop the spread of the virus, and staying away from infected individuals will help stop person-to-person transmission.

Stay home if you’re sick.
If you do have H1N1 swine flu, you can give it to others starting about 24 hours before you develop symptoms and ending about seven days later.
Wash your hands thoroughly and frequently.
Use soap and water, or if they’re unavailable, use an alcohol-based hand sanitizer. Flu viruses can survive for two hours or longer on surfaces, such as doorknobs and countertops.
Contain your coughs and sneezes.
Cover your mouth and nose when you sneeze or cough. To avoid contaminating your hands, cough or sneeze into a tissue or the inner crook of your elbow.
Avoid contact.
Stay away from crowds if possible. And if you’re at high risk of complications from the flu — for example, you’re younger than 5 or age 65 or older, you’re pregnant, or have a chronic medical condition such as asthma .
Reduce exposure within your household.
If a member of your household has H1N1 swine flu, designate one other household member to be responsible for the ill person’s close personal care.


Treating swine flu


Swine flu is treated in a similar way to ordinary flu. Antiviral and antibiotic medications are also available if further treatment is needed or complications develop.As with ordinary flu, people who have swine flu should get lots of rest and use standard paracetamol-based cold remedies to reduce their temperature and help relieve symptoms.Some over-the-counter treatments used by adults can be given to children for the relief of the symptoms. Follow the instructions that come with each medicine.children under 16 must not be given aspirin or ready-made flu remedies containing aspirin. Always read the label or check with the pharmacist that a medicine is suitable for children.


The antiviral medications oseltamivir (Tamiflu) and zanamivir (Relenza) may be used to treat some people with swine flu. Your GP will decide if these are necessary.

Antivirals are not a cure for swine flu, but will help:

  • Reduce the length of time you are ill by around one day
  • Relieve some of the symptoms
  • Reduce the potential for serious complications such as pneumonia

Tamiflu and Relenza are both medicines of the same type, but Relenza comes as an inhaler (rather than a pill) and is recommended for use in pregnancy.
If you are prescribed antivirals, you will need to pay a prescription charge (unless your prescriptions are normally free of charge).


Antibiotics are used to treat swine flu patients who develop complications. They help combat bacterial infections such aspneumonia.
In hospitals, antibiotics will be used to treat the most ill patients and may reduce the length of hospitalisation.