Swine Flu – Your guide to protection


-Dr. Debkishore Gupta–Consultant and Head of Infection Control at CK Birla Hospitals. 

Swine flu (H1N1 Influenza)is an acute respiratory illness caused by influenza type A virus. In June 2009, the World Health Organization (WHO) declared the new strain of swine-origin H1N1 as a pandemic. Swine flu comes from Orthomyxovirus which belongs to RNA family of viruses. RNA viruses are responsible for causing seven types of influenza viruses, amongst which Type A commonly causes epidemic, Type B is rarely responsible for epidemic while Type C has so far never caused any endemic. Type A is farther branched into three sub-types – H1N1, H2N2, H3N2.


Type A and Type B virus frequently undergo mutation, so epidemics are common every few years. Previous infection provides protection for 1-2 years at most. The humans catch it in the same way as any seasonal flu. It usually spreads by coughing and sneezing of the infected persons.  The incubation period varies from mostly 1-4 days. An infected person can spread it one day prior to the appearance of any symptom to as many as 7 days after he/she gets sick., while children can be contagious for as long as 10 days.After symptoms develop fully; some patients may be contagious for a longer time span. The symptoms are quite similar to seasonal flu and they vary from mild illness like fever, chills, nasal discharge, cough, sneezing, body ache, headache, lethargy, diarrhoea, vomiting to serious condition like pneumonia. Immediate admission to hospital is required when there are severe symptoms while mild ones don’t need that.

Who are at risk?

  1. Pregnant women,
  2. Children < 5years, irritable child
  3. Age >65 years
  4. Patients with lung, heart, liver, kidney disease, cancer and HIV/AIDS.
  5. People with weak immunity.


Criteria for Hospital admission:

  1. High risk group patients
  2. High grade fever(>100.4o F)
  3. Severe sore throat
  4. Breathlessness
  5. Chest pain
  6. Bluish discoloration of nails
  7. Worsening of underlying pre-existing condition


Plan of treatment

Once the patient is admitted, he/she requires undergoing testing for H1N1 influenza from Infectious disease hospital like Beliaghata I.D hospital, Kolkata and also from few private hospitals. The molecular testing is done at such hospitals to detect theH1N1 virus. Swine flu is treated with an antiviral drug Oseltamivir (Tamiflu), as this works best within two days of symptom onset. Another anti-viral called Zanamivir (Relenza) is also used to reduce the symptoms during early stage of swine flu.


This injectable virus will protect the person and not cause to become ill with the flu virus that it contains. Anyone above 6 months of age can take the injection. The vaccine is mostly used to treat high risk group patients as mentioned above. In addition to that, the ICU & emergency medical services staff at the hospital, who are open to such infected patients are vaccinated beforehand to protect them. The vaccine takes usually 2-3 weeks to act upon a person and the immunity lasts for 6-12 months. However, certain caution needs to be maintained, such as before getting vaccinated, the person has to be sure about his allergic reactions and keep track of any other disorder that may cause side-effect to the vaccine. Once the person has been injected, he/she has to keep note of any and all post-vaccination side effects and let his/her doctor know about them.