May 1, 2009
Media Release

Facts about H1N1 flu virus (human swine flu)


NEWMARKET - The Regional Municipality of York continues to work with provincial, federal and international authorities, in addition to health units across the GTA and the local health care community, to monitor, investigate and respond to the H1N1 flu virus (human swine flu) situation.   
 
What is swine influenza?
Swine influenza is a respiratory disease of pigs caused by type A influenza virus that regularly causes outbreaks of influenza in pigs.
 
What is H1N1 flu virus (human swine flu)?
Swine flu viruses do not normally infect humans.  However, sporadic human infections with swine flu have occurred.  Most commonly, these cases occur in persons with direct exposure to pigs.  There have been documented cases of one person spreading swine flu to others.
 
How is it spread?
Sometimes, humans and animals can pass strains of flu back and forth to one another through direct close contact.  When a swine influenza virus does affect a human, there is also a risk that the animal influenza can mutate and then spread directly between humans. 
 
More investigation is needed on how easily the virus spreads between people, but it is believed that it is spread the same way as regular seasonal influenza.  Influenza and other respiratory infections are transmitted from person to person, usually through coughing or sneezing, or when people touch surfaces contaminated by respiratory droplets.
 
What are the symptoms?
Symptoms are like the regular human seasonal flu.  They include fever, fatigue, lack of appetite, coughing, muscle and joint pain, sore throat and lack of appetite.  Some people with H1N1 flu virus (human swine flu) have also reported vomiting and diarrhea.
 
How can I protect myself?
To stay healthy generally and prevent the spread of influenza and other infections, it is always good practice to:
• Wash your hands well and often with soap and warm water; if soap and water are unavailable, use an alcohol-based hand sanitizer 
• Cover your mouth and nose when you cough or sneeze;  sneeze or cough into your sleeve or arm
• Contact your family doctor and stay at home if you are ill
• Practice social distancing (minimizing contact with family members, not going out in public) while symptomatic
• Stay home from work until 24 hours after symptoms are resolved or up to seven days from when you became ill (onset of symptoms), whichever is longer
 
What if I have recently travelled to Mexico or feel ill?
• If you have travelled to Mexico recently and are feeling well, monitor yourself for flu-like symptoms. In the meantime, go about your normal routine.  There is no need to stay away from work or school. If you are feeling well, do not go to the emergency department or your family doctor.
 
• If you have travelled to Mexico and are experiencing symptoms of respiratory illness, or in contact with a confirmed case within seven days of onset of symptoms, contact your health care provider or call Telehealth Ontario at 1-866-797-0000.  Make sure you mention your travel history.  People should only go to Emergency Rooms if they have severe symptoms, such as feeling short of breath.
 
Will the flu shot protect me?
It is unlikely that the seasonal flu shot will provide protection against H1N1 flu virus (human swine flu).  The flu shot will protect against the seasonal flu, which is still circulating.
 
What is a pandemic?
Pandemic influenza is defined as a new influenza virus that spreads easily between humans and affects a wide geographic area.   More information is needed to determine how easily this virus spreads.
 
What are the World Health Organization (WHO) pandemic alert phases?
According to the World Health Organization, the world is better prepared for an influenza pandemic than at any time in history.  They have developed a six-phase approach to pandemic preparedness.  It is based on the geographic spread of disease, not the severity:
• In phases 1 to 3, the virus circulates continuously among animals, especially birds, with few human infections
• In phase 4, there is verified human-to-human transmission of the virus to cause community-level outbreaks. Phase 4 indicates a significant increase in risk of a pandemic but does not mean it is a forgone conclusion
• In phase 5, there is human-to-human spread of the virus into at least two countries in one WHO region. The declaration of Phase 5 is a strong signal to organizations to finalize their planned mitigation measures
• Phase 6 indicates community-level outbreaks in at least one country in a different WHO region than phase 5. 
 
Is there a vaccine?
No.  Canada has a plan for a vaccine to be produced domestically if a pandemic occurs.  This will take about six months once the virus is identified.  Enough pandemic vaccine will be produced to cover all Canadians.
 
Is there any treatment for H1N1 flu virus (human swine flu)?
Antivirals are drugs used for the prevention and early treatment of influenza.  Two antivirals that appear to be effective in treating this illness are oseltamivir (Tamiflu) and zanamivir (Relenza).  The Public Health Agency of Canada is advising treatment for severe cases only.
 
For more information, please contact York Region Health Connection at 1-800-361-5653.
 
Outside of regular business hours, general information about H1N1 flu virus (human swine flu) is available by calling the ServiceOntario INFOline at 1-800-476-9708 from 8 a.m. to 8 p.m., seven days a week.
 
Updated information is also available on The Regional Municipality of York website at www.york.ca
 
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Media Contact: Jennifer Mitchell-Emmerson, Community and Health Services, York Region
Phone: 905 830-4444 Ext. 4016 / After-hours Cell: 905 251-5553
Email: jennifer.mitchellemmerson@york.ca

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