H1N1 flu virus (human swine flu): the basic facts

What is swine flu?

Swine flu (short for swine influenza) is so called because it is a respiratory disease that normally only infects pigs. It is usually caused by a particular influenza virus known as swine influenza A (H1N1).

How is swine flu spread?

Humans who have been in contact with pigs, such as farmers, people visiting fairs, or others coming into close proximity of pigs, can on rare occasion be infected with the swine flu virus, resulting in H1N1 flu virus (human swine flu). Health agencies such as the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention and the World Health Organization have determined that swine influenza A (H1N1) has somehow been changed so that it now can be passed from human to human.

The virus is spread through the air, by direct contact with a pig or human who is infected with the virus, or by indirect contact (e.g., by touching a surface that has been touched by someone with the virus). It is spread from person to person the same way regular seasonal influenza is spread: an infected person coughs or sneezes and the virus then enters someone else’s nose, eyes, or mouth. Some viruses can live for 2 hours or longer on surfaces such as tables and desks.

H1N1 flu virus (human swine flu) is not spread by eating properly cooked pork, heated through 71°C (160°F), or by blood transfusions. People who are infected with H1N1 flu virus may be able to infect others beginning one day before symptoms develop and up to 7 or more days after becoming sick.

Who is most likely to get H1N1 flu virus (human swine flu)?

The body can become immune to the effects of a virus if it is exposed to the virus and makes antibodies against it. Most of the population is at risk for getting swine flu because it is contagious and the majority have no natural immunity because they have not been exposed to the virus in the past.

The H1N1 flu virus can be more severe if it infects people whose immune systems are already weak, such as in the very young, seniors, pregnant women, and people with certain chronic medical conditions, like diabetes, heart, kidney or liver disease, and asthma.

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