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Resources for Understanding the H1N1 Influenza Outbreak

H1N1 influenza virus. Photo courtesy of the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC).

Outbreaks of a novel strain of the H1N1 influenza (previously known as Swine Flu) have been detected in humans in multiple states in the United States as well as Mexico and other countries in the spring of 2009. This has been a fast-moving story in which agencies within the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services (DHHS) have played leading roles. Although the National Human Genome Research Institute is not involved in these studies at this time, all parts of the government have been asked to help distributed reliable information about the outbreak and means by which individuals can protect their health and the health of their friends and families.

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), a DHHS agency, has led the investigation into reported outbreaks in the United States and the World Health Organization (WHO) has coordinated similar investigations internationally. In addition, CDC has prepared guidance and recommendations on protective steps one can take to avoid becoming infected with this flu virus.

General Information

What is the novel Influenza A (H1N1)?

The novel Influenza A (H1N1) is a respiratory disease caused by type A influenza viruses that cause regular outbreaks in pigs. People do not normally get H1N1, but human infections can and do happen. H1N1 viruses have been reported to spread from person to person, but in the past, this transmission was limited and not sustained beyond three people.

What are the symptoms?

Symptoms include fever, cough, sore throat, body aches, headache, chills and fatigue. Some people have reported diarrhea and vomiting associated with the novel influenza A (H1N1). If you exhibit symptoms, you should limit contact with other people to prevent the spread of infection. Seek appropriate medical attention, and follow any instructions from your primary care provider.

Is this novel influenza A (H1N1) virus contagious? And how does it spread?

CDC has determined that this novel influenza A (H1N1) virus is contagious and is spreading from human to human. Spread of this new H1N1 flu virus is thought to be happening in the same way that seasonal flu spreads. Flu viruses are spread mainly from person to person through coughing or sneezing. Sometimes people may become infected by touching contaminated objects or surfaces with flu viruses on them and then touching their eyes, nose, or mouth.

Prevention Measures

What can I do to protect myself from getting sick?

There is no vaccine available right now to protect against the novel influenza A (H1N1). There are everyday actions, however, that can help prevent the spread of germs that cause respiratory illnesses like H1N1 influenza. Take these everyday steps to protect your health and avoid spreading the flu:

Practice good hygiene.

  • Cover your nose and mouth with a tissue when you cough or sneeze. Throw the tissue in the trash after you use it.
  • Wash your hands often with soap and water, especially after you cough or sneeze. Alcohol-based hand cleaners are also effective if soap and water are not readily available. However, they must be more than 60 percent alcohol. Rub your hands with sanitizer vigorously until it is dried.
  • Washing hands vigorously for 15-20 seconds is essential, especially after the following activities:
    • Before preparing or eating food
    • After going to the bathroom or assisting someone with personal needs
    • Before and after tending to someone who is sick
    • After blowing your nose, coughing, or sneezing
    • After handling an animal or animal waste
    • After handling garbage
    • Before and after treating a cut or wound
  • Avoid touching your eyes, nose or mouth. Germs spread this way.
  • Try to avoid close contact with infected people or people who exhibit signs of illness.
  • If you or a family member gets sick with influenza, CDC recommends staying home from work or school and limiting contact with others to keep from infecting them.

Try not to touch potentially contaminated surfaces.

  • Influenza viruses can persist on both nonporous and porous environmental surfaces for hours to days depending on a variety of human and environmental factors. The secondary spread of infectious virus from environmental reservoirs to susceptible persons is accomplished primarily via hand transfer (i.e., hand contact with contaminated surfaces and then touching mucous membranes of the eyes, nose, and mouth).
  • Proper hand washing or hand hygiene, coupled with respiratory hygiene and cough etiquette is the principal means of interrupting this transfer. Routine cleaning and disinfection strategies used during influenza seasons could be applied to the environmental management of the current influenza outbreak.
  • Employees who work in healthcare or laboratory settings may require additional precautions. Specific guidance for clinicians and public health professionals can be found at www.cdc.gov/h1n1flu/guidance/index.htm

Antiviral Prophylaxis and Treatment

  • Guidelines for the use of antiviral medication for the treatment and prophylaxis of H1N1 are available on the CDC Web site. These guidelines are updated as we learn more about this new virus, so be sure to check for the most current guidelines.

Helpful Links and Resources

General Information

The Following Information Is Primarily of Value to Employees of the Federal Government

OPM Information for Federal Employees
OPM Info for Departments and Agencies
Human Capital Planning for Pandemic Influenza
HHS Information

Should you have questions regarding the above subject, please contact your servicing Human Resources Center/Office for assistance at: http://intranet.hhs.gov/hr/ohr/index.html

Federal Occupational Health
  • Occupational health professionals are available on a consultative basis to assess agency risk and provide recommendations.
  • FOH health unit staff and EAP counselors are available to answer individual employee questions and concerns.
  • Please note: FOH health centers do NOT stock any antiviral medications and are NOT equipped to diagnose or treat H1N1 flu or seasonal influenza. Nurses are not licensed to dispense these medications. Employees with signs or symptoms of influenza will be referred to their health care provider for evaluation and treatment.

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Last Reviewed: February 26, 2012

Last updated: February 26, 2012