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H1N1 Swine Flu vs Seasonal Flu

Flu Confusion


Updated September 17, 2009

Understanding the flu used to be easy: It was a virus that could make you sick and you could get a vaccine to prevent it if you wanted to.

But the emergence of the new pandemic strain of H1N1flu is causing a lot of confusion for parents. Knowing what to call it is confusing enough. Officials at the CDC went from calling it swine flu, then novel H1N1, and now seem to have settled on 2009 H1N1.

Flu Questions and Answers

Common questions that parents seem to have about the flu right now include:

Q. If my kids get the flu right now, is it seasonal flu or H1N1 swine flu?

A. Although this will likely change as seasonal flu becomes more active in October and through the winter, right now, as kids are going back to school, the CDC reports that almost all of the flu viruses being tested are the 2009 H1N1 strain. That means that if your child tests positive for the flu at your pediatrician's office, then she likely has H1N1 swine flu and not seasonal flu.

Q. What are the symptoms of the seasonal flu and H1N1 swine flu?

A. Surprisingly, seasonal flu symptoms and H1N1 swine flu symptoms are usually the same and can include fever, cough, sore throat, runny or stuffy nose, body aches, headache, chills and fatigue. One difference is that children infected with H1N1 flu are more likely to have diarrhea and vomiting than those with seasonal flu.

So far, the H1N1 virus is not causing more serious flu symptoms in most children. Instead, it is just expected to infect many more people than the seasonal flu virus because it is a new strain of flu virus.

Q. Should my kids take Tamiflu or Relenza if they are exposed to someone with the flu?

A. While these antiviral medications were once commonly given to children exposed to people with the flu, new recommendations from the CDC state that they should now be used in very limited situations and "reserved for persons at higher risk for influenza-related complications."

So if your child had close contact with someone with the flu, Tamiflu or Relenza might be an option if he has any chronic medical problems, like asthma, diabetes, and immune system problems, etc. Preventative flu medications might also be considered for young children under the age of two to five years of age, since they are also at higher risk for complications from the flu, even if they are healthy.

Q. Should my kids take Tamiflu or Relenza if they have the flu?

A. As with prevention, recommendations for treatment with flu medications have changed and the CDC now states that they should be considered for children with the flu if they:

  • require hospitalization
  • are under five years old
  • have chronic medical or problems with their immune system
  • are receiving long-term aspirin therapy
  • have warning signs or symptoms for lung disease, like hard or fast breathing

Q. Do my kids need both a seasonal flu vaccine and a vaccine against the 2009 H1N1 flu?

A. Yes, the current recommendations are that all children between the ages of 6 months and 18 years, even if they are healthy and have no medical problems, get a yearly seasonal flu vaccine, which might include a flu shot or FluMist, the nasal spray flu vaccine. Unfortunately, the CDC states that the "seasonal flu vaccine is not expected to protect against the 2009 H1N1 flu."

That means that kids should get a seasonal flu vaccine now and the 2009 H1N1 swine flu vaccine when it starts to become available in mid-October. Your kids will likely be able to get both flu vaccines at the same time if they are both available and your child hasn't had a seasonal flu shot yet.


CDC. 2009 H1N1 Influenza Vaccine. Accessed September 2009.

CDC. Revised Recommendations for the Use of Influenza Antiviral Drugs. Accessed September 2009.

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