Autoimmune Diseases and Flu Season: H1N1 (Swine Flu) and Seasonal Flu

Every time I turn around lately someone is talking about the swine flu (H1N1). There have been outbreaks on college campuses around the United States and with kids back to school everyone is a little nervous about what germs they may bring home. The vaccine for the H1N1 Swine flu won’t be available until October and the seasonal flu vaccine has only been available to selected clinics and doctors so far.  It is entirely possible that even with the vaccine, many people will catch the flu.


Let’s face it even if you do everything  right there is a chance that you can get swine flu or the seasonal flu.  Hand washing seems to be the best line of defense and my kids tell me that there are hand sanitizer dispensers in every classroom.  The local schools seem to be doing everything they can to prevent an outbreak, but unless you are living in a bubble there is still that chance that you or the people that surround you will become sick. It is entirely possible that many will come down with swine flu before the proper agencies are even able to get the vaccine to the people that would benefit from it most. So I thought I would talk about what to do if you actually come down with this strain or any other strain of flu.

Firstly, you are not going to know if you have H1N1 or the regular seasonal flu. The symptoms of this and any other strain of flu virus are sudden onset of cold like symptoms. Fever (over 100 degrees), chills, headache, dry cough, runny nose, lethargy, body aches are the most common symptoms but sore throat, nausea, vomiting and diarrhea have also been reported. If you or anyone that you are living with is experiencing these symptoms, get to the doctor right away.

The sooner you see a doctor the better.  Anti-viral medications such as Tamiflu must be taken within 12-48 hours of the onset of symptoms to be effective. Tamiflu can help to reduce the duration of the symptoms of the flu up to 30%. Tamiflu is also prescribed for the prevention of the flu if you have been exposed to someone who has been diagnosed with the flu. This is particularly important if you have a compromised immune system.

If you are unfortunate enough to catch the swine or seasonal flu, there are many over the counter flu remedies that may ease your symptoms. Make sure to check with your doctor or pharmacist before starting any over the counter remedy because it may interact with any prescription drugs you are taking.

The most important thing you can do for yourself when sick with the flu is get plenty of rest. Having experienced the flu first-hand I can tell you that your body isn’t really going to want to do anything but rest. Make sure to get plenty of fluids when dealing with the flu because dehydration will only make you feel worse and may slow down the healing process.

If your symptoms do not improve or start to get worse, see a doctor right away. Many people with autoimmune diseases have a more difficult time fighting the flu because of the treatments for their disease often weakens their immune system. If you are experiencing shortness of breath, having difficulty breathing, experiencing chest pains as a result of coughing or are coughing up yellow, green or bloody phlegm get to a doctor right away.  These may be symptoms of a much more serious condition.

Secondary infections as a result of the flu include sinus infections, bronchitis, ear infections and pneumonia. Some secondary infections may result in hospitalization.  It is vitally important to listen to your body and if there is any indication that you are not improving call the doctor.

It can take up to two weeks for a healthy adult to get over the flu.  If your immune system is compromised it probably will take longer. Most people with the flu recover completely within a reasonable amount of time, but there may be lingering symptoms such as a cough and general weakness.  It is important that if you are unsure about any symptoms that you are experiencing that you contact your doctor and do not hesitate.  It is much better to ask to see the doctor and have it be a relatively small issue than hold off and wait to see a physician and have it be much more serious and harder to treat.

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2 thoughts on “Autoimmune Diseases and Flu Season: H1N1 (Swine Flu) and Seasonal Flu

  1. Sandra

    Thanks for the great post with lots of good info.

    I’m in the process of sending out communications in our office re: preparing for and managing possible H1N1 outbreaks. This info on what to do if by chance you do contract the flu is really valuable. And as someone who has been there done that you are speaking from a credible place.

    The Arthritis Kitchen Blog

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