What Is the Flu?

The flu is an infection in your nose, throat, and lungs that is caused by a virus. There are different kinds of flu, like the one that people get every winter, which you can get a flu shot to prevent. There are other types of flu that primarily infect animals, like bird flu and now swine flu. The real name for swine flu is H1N1 flu. It is called swine flu because a virus that causes this flu also causes flu in pigs. You cannot get this flu from eating pork, bacon, sausages, or any other pork products.

The flu is spread from one person to another from drops in the air, by coughing or sneezing, or from touching something that has the flu virus on it and then touching your mouth or nose where the flu virus can start infection.

What Can I Do Now to Prevent Getting the H1N1 Flu (Swine Flu)?

Little things you can do will make a big difference:

  • Wash your hands well and often.
  • If water or soap are not available, use hand cleaners that have alcohol in them
  • When you cough or sneeze, cover your nose and mouth by coughing into your arm so that the spray from your cough does not get into the air
  • Always wash your hands after you cough or sneeze.
  • Use a tissue and throw it away after you use it

And remember the “Don'ts”:

  • Don't touch your nose, mouth, or eyes because they are places where germs can enter your body
  • Don't go to work or school if you are sick
  • Stay away from people who are sick

Is There a Vaccination to Keep Me from Getting the H1N1 Flu (Swine Flu)?

The vaccine for H1N1 flu (swine flu) will be available in the fall of 2009. This vaccine is separate from the usual seasonal flu vaccine. Pregnant women are first on the list of those who should get the H1N1 flu vaccine because you are more likely to get pneumonia and become very sick if you get the flu. Health care providers will have the vaccine to give to you.

The flu season typically runs from October to early in the next year. If you are pregnant during these months, it is strongly recommended that you get the regular seasonal flu vaccine as soon as possible and then get the vaccine for H1N1 flu as soon as your health care provider has it in stock. The two vaccines can be given at the same time safely, and they can be given at any time during pregnancy.

What Can I Do to Prevent My Baby From Getting the H1N1 Flu (Swine Flu)?

Because the H1N1 vaccine cannot be given to babies up to 6 months old, you can protect your baby by getting the H1N1 vaccine while you are pregnant. This will prevent you from getting the flu after you give birth, which could be passed to your baby. It is recommended that all family members and caretakers who will come in contact with the new baby get vaccinated.

I Am Pregnant. Can I Take Medicine for the Flu If I Get Sick?

If you have any of the different kinds of flu while you are pregnant, you are more likely to get pneumonia when you are pregnant. Contact your midwife, nurse, or doctor right away if you feel ill. There are at least two medicines you can receive that are safe for you and your baby: oseltamivir is also known as Tamiflu, and zanamivir is also known as Relenza, and these may both be given to you.

If you have the H1N1 flu (swine flu), your health care provider may direct you to go to the hospital so treatment can begin right away. You also will be asked to help keep it from spreading to other people by staying home from work or school and wearing masks around others. It is important to eat well and get plenty of sleep if you have the flu. Your health, your baby's health, and the health of your neighborhood are very important.

I Am Not Pregnant, But I Am Breastfeeding

Good for you! You are helping protect your baby from the flu. If you have the H1N1 flu (swine flu), and your baby is under 6 months old, call your health care provider. You can take Tamiflu or Relenza, which go through the milk to the baby in very small amounts. No problems have been found in babies of women who have breastfed while taking these drugs. More importantly, your breast milk is giving your baby all the immunity you are making, which will protect both of you from most illnesses that you are exposed to.

What Are the Symptoms of the H1N1 Flu (Swine Flu)?

The symptoms of this flu are the same symptoms you get when you have any flu—fever, cough, sore throat, body aches, headache, cough, chills, and weakness. Some persons with H1N1 flu have diarrhea or vomiting.

The flu can be mild, with just a few symptoms that last 3 or 4 days, but rarely it can be severe and require hospitalization. If you get the flu, you can give the flu to another person about 1 day before you get sick to 5 to 7 days after you first get sick. Please stay home from work/school when you are sick.

What Should I Do If I Get Flu Symptoms?

  • Call your health care provider immediately and stay home.
  • If you do need medicine, your health care provider will tell you where to go to get it.
  • You can start treating your symptoms with Tylenol while you are waiting to hear from your health care provider.
  • If you have the flu, you should stay home for 7 days after you first developed symptoms or after you have been completely well for 24 hours.
  • Call your health care provider immediately if you experience flu symptoms that go away but then come back.


Centers for Disease Control and Prevention

Key facts about swine flu:


What pregnant women should know about the H1N1 (swine flu) virus:


For breastfeeding mothers

H1N1 flu (swine flu) and feeding your baby: What parents should know


This page may be reproduced for noncommercial use by health care professionals to share with clients. Any other reproduction is subject to JMWH approval. The information and recommendations appearing on this page are appropriate in most instances, but they are not a substitute for medical diagnosis. For specific information concerning your personal medical condition, JMWH suggests that you consult your health care provider.