H1N1 flu cases are beginning to pop up across Canada, and health officials are warning that we’re not even at peak flu season yet. In Alberta alone, cases of the flu nearly doubled from Dec. 14 to Dec. 21, up from 65 to 125, with H1N1 accounting for more than 90 per cent of cases. It’s clear that the virus that once caused a global pandemic is here to stay, at least for the next little while.  Here’s all you need to know about H1N1.

What is H1N1?

H1N1, also known as the swine flu, first reared its ugly head in 2009. Similar to other flu strains, H1N1 is an infectious respiratory virus that can begin in your nose, throat, or lungs. It is highly contagious and can spread rapidly from person to person. When H1N1 first appeared, a global pandemic soon followed. As humans had little natural immunity to it, thousands across the globe became ill. The virus entered its post-pandemic phase in 2010, and is now one of several seasonal flu strains seen in Canada. 

Why is H1N1 so serious?

Unlike other flu strains that mostly cause illness among the elderly, H1N1 doesn’t discriminate based on age, and many people in younger demographics are susceptible to the virus.

Some people, however, are more likely to develop complications from H1N1, as is the case with other flu strains. This includes people with chronic health conditions, those who live in a nursing home or other chronic care facility, and people who are older than 65.  Children younger than five are also more likely to develop complications.  Complications from the H1N1 virus include pneumonia, bronchitis, sinus infections and ear infections. If people have long-term chronic diseases, the flu can make their disease symptoms worse.

What are the symptoms of H1N1?

The symptoms of H1N1 are similar to other strains of the flu. The most common symptoms are:

  • Cough
  • Sore throat
  • Body aches
  • Head aches
  • Chills
  • No appetite
  • Nausea, vomiting or diarrhea
  • Runny nose

Gerald Predy, senior medical officer with Albert Health Services, says the hallmark of the virus, however, is just how quickly it strikes. “It comes on very suddenly,” he told CTV News Channel. “You feel fine in the morning then by noon you can’t move.”

What’s the best way to prevent H1N1?

The best way to protect you and your family from any flu strain is to get a flu shot.  You can find a flu clinic near you by clicking this link, provided by the Public Health Agency of Canada.  Beyond that, there are also other things you can do to limit your chances of getting the flu:

  • Wash your hands frequently with soap and water. Wash them before and after eating, and after you have been in a public place, used a washroom, coughed or sneezed, and touched a common surface.
  • Cough and sneeze into your arm, not your hand.
  • Keep your hands away from your face, as in most cases the flu enters your body through the eyes, nose or mouth.
  • Keep common surface such as door knobs, keyboards, light switches and phones clean and disinfected.
  • If you think you have the flu, stay at home, as this will limit the chances of you passing the virus on to someone else.
  • Eat healthy food and engage in physical activity in order keep your immune system strong.

(Sources: Public Health Agency of Canada; Canadian Lung Association)