Dr. Johann Snyman
Medical Director, China Clinics
Is H1N1 2009 a serious health risk, or is it just hype?
H1N1 2009, correctly called Pandemic (H1N1) 2009, is a mild illness in the vast majority of people who contract it. However, the same virus which causes a mild disease in most people is also capable of causing a serious pneumonia in others which can be fatal.
About three quarters of all the people who developed severe flu had an underlying health condition – for example they were pregnant, obese, or suffered from a chronic problem such as diabetes or lung disease. One quarter of all severe cases have been in people who had no underlying risk factors. According to the Australia Influenza Report 2009, about 60 percent of severely infected children had previously been completely healthy.
Most people who are infected will have mild symptoms – however we need to watch for signals of severe infection in everyone, not only those with risk factors.
How dangerous is H1N1 2009 to children?
Pandemic flu is more common in younger people, and we see more infection in children because it tends to spread readily in schools.
Children, especially young children and babies, can be more vulnerable to any illness as they don’t express how ill they feel. They become dehydrated quickly and can’t tolerate fluid loss to the same extent as an adult.
As in any age group, this new flu causes mild illness in most. However some children can become seriously ill, and some children have died. It can be a fatal illness and must be taken seriously.
If your child is sick and not improving after 24 to 48 hours, or if you are worried, seek medical attention. Be alert for signs of severe illness such as difficulty breathing, dehydration or confusion.
Is it true that H1N1 2009 is particularly dangerous for young people while elderly people are largely unaffected?
People over 65 years of age are less likely to be infected with pandemic flu than younger adults and children. However, serious cases, severe illness and fatalities are occurring in all age groups, including people over 65.
Should children be vaccinated?
The general recommendation is that children should receive the pandemic flu vaccine once your local health authorities have approved and recommended the vaccine for children. As of September 30, 2009, authorities in the US are recommending pandemic flu vaccination for all children older than 6-months-old. Australian authorities are not yet recommending vaccination for children under 10-years-old. UK authorities are currently recommending vaccination for children over 6-months-old who have risk factors such as asthma.
If you get H1N1 2009 once, do you develop an immunity?
Yes, immunity develops after infection with pandemic flu. However, all influenza viruses mutate, including pandemic flu. The virus can mutate enough that it evades that specific immunity.