Influenza, commonly called "the flu," is caused by a virus that infects the respiratory tract (nose, throat, lungs). As a result, people with respiratory diseases like COPD are more likely to have serious health problems, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC).
Seasonal Flu vs. H1N1
So what is the difference between seasonal influenza and the new flu virus known as novel H1N1 influenza?
Seasonal influenza is the regular yearly influenza caused by two main types of flu virus: A and B. Novel H1N1 is a new flu virus that was first detected in March 2009. Since H1N1 flu is a new strain, most people don’t have a resistance to it. This means that illness from this virus may spread more quickly. Asthma and COPD have been risk factors in 32 percent of reported hospitalized cases of H1N1 in the United States.
Symptoms of the seasonal flu and novel H1N1 are similar, occur suddenly, and can cause aches, chills, cough, fever, headache, or a sore throat. Most healthy people recover from the flu without complications. But if you have a high risk condition like asthma or COPD, it is important to consult your doctor early for the best treatment.
How can I stay well or avoid spreading the flu?
Both the seasonal influenza and the novel H1N1 are spread through exposure—mostly through coughs and sneezes of a person sick with the virus. You can avoid getting the flu or spreading it by following these CDC recommendations:
- Avoid close contact with others.
- Stay home when you are sick.
- Cover your mouth and nose when you sneeze or cough.
- Wash your hands often.
- Avoid touching your eyes, nose, or mouth.
One of the most effective ways to prevent influenza is through vaccination. Virus strains change constantly, which is why yearly vaccines are important. Annual vaccination for the seasonal flu began in September. Studies show that people who are at high risk for the flu are much less likely to be hospitalized or die during the flu season when they get a vaccination.
The seasonal vaccine is very effective, but it is still possible to contract the flu. Those who become ill after vaccination usually have a milder case.
The seasonal influenza vaccine will not protect you from novel H1N1 virus. However, it is still important to get a seasonal influenza vaccine to protect you from virus strains you could confuse with the H1N1 virus.
A vaccine has been developed against the novel H1N1 flu. Federal and local health officials have been asked to administer it to children and young adults ages 6 months to 24 years, pregnant women, individuals under the age of 64 with chronic diseases (like COPD), and caretakers and home contacts of infants (younger than six months), as well as healthcare workers. They will alert the public when it is available.
For more information about the seasonal or H1N1 flu visit www.cdc.gov/flu.