April 29th, 2009
06:00 AM ET

How are symptoms different from a common flu?

This morning, CNN answers questions from viewers who are concerned about symptoms and their travel history.  As we learn more about the swine flu, we are using CNN's newsgathering resources to help answer some of our viewers' most frequently asked questions.

Q: How can you tell whether you have a common flu or swine flu?

CNN: The symptoms of the current swine flu and seasonal flu are very similar. Reports suggest that this flu virus may result in nausea, vomiting and diarrhea more often than the typical flu. CNN's Dr. Sanjay Gupta says doctors in Mexico have reported seeing sudden dizziness as well. There’s no way to tell for sure without getting tested. If you’re feverish or have other flu-like symptoms such as a cough or a sore throat, you should see a doctor.

One positive aspect is that the swine flu cases appeared near the end of influenza season, Dr. Richard Besser, the acting CDC director told a news conference Tuesday. Had the outbreak occurred in January or February, public health officials would have had greater difficulty because of the number of people infected with the common flu.

Q: My family returned from Mexico this week. We aren't sick, but aren't sure if we should stay away from other people. Can we spread the virus even if we feel ok?

CNN: In general, people who are not sick probably do not put other people at risk, said Dr. Arthur Reingold, head of epidemiology in the School of Public Health at the University of California, Berkeley.  There is no recommendation from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention or the World Health Organization that they should be quarantined.

Q: Will the current economic situation make the swine flu outbreak worse because of unemployment or uninsured Americans who may delay going to the doctor because of their current financial situation?

CNN: If more people go untreated because they lack insurance or the money to pay to see a doctor, it would likely cause those people to become sicker than they would have been otherwise. Lack of care would not affect the spread of the disease if those people remained isolated and avoided close contact with others, as the CDC has recommended.

Q: How long can the virus survive on objects? If someone sneezes and touches a grocery cart how will that cart carry the virus?

CNN: The virus survives on surfaces certainly for a number of hours. Even though the virus can survive on surfaces, the likelihood of it being transmitted from one person to another via a phone or surface is slim. It needs to get down into your lungs to make you sick, said Dr. Arthur Reingold, head of epidemiology in the School of Public Health at the University of California, Berkeley. “I personally would not have a major fear of environmental contamination,” he said.  “Virtually all influenza is transmitted from sneezing and coughing.”


For more information, see our previous posts and Facts about swine flu and check back on Dr. Gupta’s blog for more answers.

Filed under: Global Health • H1N1 Flu

soundoff (40 Responses)
  1. Dan

    Thank you for the updated information there at CNN. I feel better equipped with knowledge (empowered) knowing more about the life expectancy of the virus without a human host. Normally I would research this on line but when it comes to health issues I would rather hear it straight from the doctors mouth. No pun intended.

    Thank you once again.


    April 29, 2009 at 08:05 | Report abuse | Reply
  2. Christopher Cairncross

    germany confirms a case of H1N1 virus...

    The robert-koch-institute confirmed a case in bavaria... just wanted to let you know, am following the news on TV and cant see germany in the ticker

    April 29, 2009 at 09:03 | Report abuse | Reply
  3. Robert Hernandez

    Dr, it appears that the distribution pattern from this epidemic fallows a dark path. Texas-Kansas-and New York is the distribution route that drug dealers use to distribute drugs in the US. Apparently you have to be in direct physical contact with pigs or a contaminated product to be infected. The drugs are manufactured in Mexican farms near or next to a pig farm and then transported to the US across Texas, Kansas, and then New York. An alarm needs to be sent to drug dealer, and users that the drugs that they are selling may be contaminated with the virus. The Israelis are right by calling this epidemic the Mexican Mafia virus, and yes this epidemic is going to spread across the continental US as the contaminated drugs are distributed in the US.

    April 29, 2009 at 09:57 | Report abuse | Reply
  4. Richard Perez

    I saw the report indicating the Dept of Ag in Mexico & Smithfield would not provide CNN access to the pig farm and that they indicated all appropriate vaccinations and steps have been taken by Smithfield, but how can we 'verify' that they in fact have and that they are not the cause of the swine flu outbreak? Clearly they would defend themselves in the wake of 150+ deaths and a global outbreak so they obviously would not want to be discovered to be at fault, and may not be, but what is the US government doing & what can they do to verify their claims that they did everything right?

    April 29, 2009 at 10:15 | Report abuse | Reply
  5. Charlie, Miami

    What worries me is this thing about 35,000 people crossing our borders from Mexico every day, and That all we looking for are symptoms of a cold in people before we stop them. What if someone just left someone whom is infected and shows no symptoms until they are already in the states? this is ridiculous. they should stop people from going into Mexico alltogether, no way out, just entry if your a citizen. and have national guard tents and medics set up on the border and check everyone who comes in to the states. What, do we have to wait till innocent woman and children start diing before we start to take action. We need to do something now. This is no joke. We need to quarantine this problem now before it spreads all over the United States.

    April 29, 2009 at 10:21 | Report abuse | Reply
  6. Hugh Morris

    Unbelievable. An economic struggle, as history will tell, is the most fertile ground for disease to spread, Does the CDC really think that lower level employees are going to stay home if they exhibit signs similar to the S.F.? Good job with the commercials CDC, but lets think a little more realistically, there need to be stations where potential carriers are able to be tested, treated, and assisted financially. HMO's need to fill these shoes. Although outbreak would be a golden nugget to them, the CDC needs to require this, otherwise the perpetuation of this disease to the point where vaccinations, made by pharmaceutical companies, backed by HMO's, owned by the most wealthy three percent in the country, will be worth its weight in diamonds. What a tragedy.


    If you see individuals at your place of employment getting sick, or exhibiting signs of illness, tell them to take the day off and offer to help them in any way you can. Bring back a sense of true community, lets help one another, and avoid an illness spreading like wildfire due to the fact that the majority of the population cant afford to take a day off of work, and/or aren't insured.

    April 29, 2009 at 10:28 | Report abuse | Reply
  7. Tami Thomas

    The CDC website clearly states that they believe the swine flu virus to be contagious 1 day before you desplay any symptems.

    April 29, 2009 at 10:28 | Report abuse | Reply
  8. Julian Damy

    Dr. Gupta, I've followed your reporting from Mexico and want to thank you for it. You've often wondered why all this deaths in Mexico City and not in the rest of the world. Well, here's one possible reason:

    Let me tart by saying that I was born in Mexico City and lived there for 28 years. Air pollution in Mexico city is a serious health hazard that historically has been all but ignored both by the city’s government and by its car-loving population.

    Because of the air pollution, kids often suffer from respiratory illnesses from the day they are born, asthma is widely spread, colds are particularly severe, and the bouts of cough that inevitably follow a cold can sometimes last for months and often lead to more serious complications – if the pollution increases the severity of a simple cold, then it has to do the same for the flu.

    One reason deaths are stabilizing at this moment might be because the city is all but paralyzed, which means there are far fewer cars on the streets, so the pollution levels would’ve come down by now.

    Granted, this is only a theory and we might be wrong. But I think it should be seriously considered as the likely culprit for the deaths in Mexico. And so far I haven’t heard anything about in the mainstream media. Someone should be looking into this.

    With this frightening epidemic maybe the Mexican health system and the government will finally tackle the ever growing air pollution problem in this city. But honestly, I doubt it.

    April 29, 2009 at 11:14 | Report abuse | Reply
  9. Joe Duca

    PLEASE stop calling it Swine Flu. You are causing problems with pig farmers and pork production. When the officials in charge of health care call it H1N1, you should be responsible and call it the same thing. By using the term Swine Flu you are not reporting news you are creating a world wide reaction that is hurting people. Please be responsible.

    April 29, 2009 at 11:24 | Report abuse | Reply
  10. Daisy Pomeroy

    What people need to think about is that when they get out and touch door handles, baskets at the grocery store, anything else some-one has touched, they pick up the virus...then use their cell phones, keys, lipstick, etc., contaminate those items... When we get home, even wash our hands, but then re-handle these items, cell phones,etc., perhaps contaminated with the same virus/germs, doesn't that defeat the purpose of hand washing, sanitizing??? Shouldn't we also wipe off our phones, lipsticks, with an alcohol wipe or sanitizing wipe???
    People! Your keys, your cell phones, are probably as dirty as money is!!! I see babies at the store all the time with Mom's KEYS in her mouth as a pacifier... Then they cannot figure out later why their children got sick!!! D. P.

    April 29, 2009 at 11:39 | Report abuse | Reply
  11. Hugh

    Yes, the drug trade is perpetuating this issue, how do we solve it? Well if we had learned from past prohibition failures we would potentially not be in this predicament. By keeping cocaine and more particularly marijuana illegal, we give the regulation and power to corrupt businessmen in Mexico and other southern regions. There is no quality standard that these men operate under, they are simply out to make their dollar.

    At this point we have two options, we put Martial Law into effect, and make an example out of drug runners (generally women, kids/teens); henceforth instilling a fear so great into any individual looking to make an illegal dollar that eventually the drug trade will slow, but will not stop. Ever.


    We can legalize and regulate the trade. We can put standards in place to assess the quality and investigate for any health issues, such as Swine Flu. With over thirty five thousand people crossing the border each day, a relatively significant percentage of those "border-crossers" will be bringing drugs, as well as potential sickness, and distributing both to the American People.

    Please don't view this as another feeble attempt to legalize drugs, but as a realistic viewpoint from a non-user. We must regulate all trade, and not simply ignore and shirk our duties.

    Thank you Mr. Hernandez for the inspiration!

    April 29, 2009 at 12:00 | Report abuse | Reply
  12. Maria

    A pig, a bird and a human had a virus each to contribute. Did they sneeze it up together? It originated in a Mexican farm out of the blue?

    Sounds more like incubated in a test tube. Germinated in Mexico in time for spring break-college kids from across USA to bring it back to their schools. The seasonal human migration route in the US!!! Spring break travel may be a new achilles heel for bioterrorism tactics.

    Why not call it "Homo sapien" virus or "Avian" virus or aptly "Hominid-Sus-Avian" virus?

    April 29, 2009 at 12:10 | Report abuse | Reply
  13. Silvia Garza

    I work for a large chemical company in Houston. we were told by the EH&S dept (Enviromentla Health & Safety( that wearing masks is of no use and dont work in preventing contamination. Is this true?

    the company that owns the pig farm is from the US. What kind of liabilty would they have if any?

    I was very suprised to read that the pig farm is owned by Smithfield Co.

    April 29, 2009 at 12:13 | Report abuse | Reply
  14. www.ronmorehouse.wordpress.com

    Once again politics takes precedence over reality. Our illustrious leader visits mexico and on return home we hear of the swine flu within days.

    Reality is the problem was underway weeks before his visit to mexico. Now he can take credit for something he did not predict and voted against stock piling of Tamiflu under George Bush. Is he glad Bush did it now?

    April 29, 2009 at 13:17 | Report abuse | Reply
  15. Dvid in SF

    Dr. Gupta I feel you and CNN have been very irresponsible when it come to identifying this child as pt. zero. For the rest of his life, this poor child will be known as pt zero of a illness that killed hundreds and possibly more. This would be a terrible burden for anyone, yet alone a small child. Does anyone remember Gaëtan Dugas, the man who was wrongly called pt zero of AIDS his family had to go into hiding because of wrongly being accused. You and CNN should be ashamed of exploiting this child for rating

    April 29, 2009 at 13:42 | Report abuse | Reply
  16. Noa

    Dr. Arthur Reingold, head of epidemiology in the School of Public Health at the University of California, Berkeley. “I personally would not have a major fear of environmental contamination,” he said. “Virtually all influenza is transmitted from sneezing and coughing.”

    Does Dr Reingold's comment suggest that people should not worry about environmental contamination and should all wear masks to combat trasmission through sneezing and coughing? While CDC repeatedly suggest frequent hand-washing (to cope with environmental contamination). These two opinions seem quite conflicting. I am getting confused here.

    April 29, 2009 at 14:05 | Report abuse | Reply
  17. Elizabeth

    Thanks for all the information about swine flu to Dr. sanjay gupta, and the health experts. From other doctors that were on cnn during the swine flu coverage. Thank you Dr. sanjay gupta for putting your health at risk. By going to mexico telling us viewers the latest information. All this couldn't been possible without you. Since hearing all this, I've decided to take a career in becoming a doctor.

    April 29, 2009 at 14:15 | Report abuse | Reply
  18. Stephen

    If, as reported, 36,000 people die annually in the U.S. & 3,000 in Canada, from 'common flu', why are we so concerned with 1 death so far from the 'Swine Flu'??? Seems a bit rediculous! Maybe we should be in more of a 'panic' over the 'Common Flu'???

    April 29, 2009 at 14:21 | Report abuse | Reply
  19. Jo Deaney

    Good piece about patient zero. It was encouraging to see that he had recovered. We're being told in the UK not to wear face masks, and wash hands regularly and not to sneeze or cough over others. Everyone shouldn't panic.

    April 29, 2009 at 14:23 | Report abuse | Reply
  20. m. erickson

    Using personal face masks are a good idea but, people need to know that after several hours they become ineffective and need to be changed

    April 29, 2009 at 14:24 | Report abuse | Reply
  21. Gabriella

    Common sense would be to Close down borders and air ports of high risk states such as California! Flu virus, confined spaces, recycled air = spreading HELLO??1111!!!!

    April 29, 2009 at 14:32 | Report abuse | Reply
  22. Allen Levy

    One thing not being reported about Swine flu is that, like all flus, it is a sudden onset illness. You feel bad all over very quickly-at least that is what my Dr. told me. A cold takes time to develop. This is going to play havoc with society, as the media jumps all over this-a simple threat story? Perfect for the media, which avoids anything complex. I think it will hurt ridership on mass transit, especially, since that is often populated by poor and (at least sometimes) latino populations. Just what we needed!

    April 29, 2009 at 15:26 | Report abuse | Reply
  23. Jen

    The U.S Goverment should take action by shutting the border and cancel all incoimg and out-going flight from Mexico and any form of transportation that is in-going and out -going to mexico. If one person was able to get of the plane from mexico and have the swine flu without knowing then that one person can infect other and soon cause an epidemic. They should ban any import that is coming from mexico. How the hell airport staff can contain a person that is infected with the flu?

    April 29, 2009 at 15:59 | Report abuse | Reply
  24. Dianne Viencek

    If pandemic reaches level 6 here in the US, how will this effect travel and access to public buildings.

    April 29, 2009 at 17:29 | Report abuse | Reply
  25. Eric F

    I'm trying to understand why this virus is anything other than a part of the normal flu season. This appears likely to be nothing more than an outbreak of hysteria!

    April 29, 2009 at 18:07 | Report abuse | Reply
  26. frank ulibarri

    I feel that the media should not be using the word swine, because common sence will tell you that a child would not be able to eat pork and I feel it is a good.

    April 29, 2009 at 19:25 | Report abuse | Reply
  27. Walter L. Johnson

    I would like to know why so many people think a face mask can help with any flu. Flu viruses can't even be directly viewed with a microscope, and I consider it doubtful people could breath through a mask that was so solid a virus couldn't get through.

    April 29, 2009 at 21:13 | Report abuse | Reply
  28. Charles Hale

    I think the "panic atmosphere" is more generated by the 1918 Spanish Flu than the current variety. I believe if it can happen once, the chances are high that it can happen again.

    April 29, 2009 at 21:19 | Report abuse | Reply
  29. Kari

    Hm. I have to wonder if H1N1 hasn't been about in the US for much longer than this 'sudden' outbreak. I can tell you that several people in my family, people that I work with, and folks that I know displayed the same 'extra' symptoms during the flu season while they had the common flu.

    I, myself, spent 3 days down with vomitting and diarrhea while home caring for my 8 year old while she had the common flu with no rhyme or reason for it. Of course, I started tamiflu during that time and all of my symptoms simply disappeared. I can say the same happened for at least 12 different people I know....and that's been months ago.

    250,000-500,000 people die a year from common influenza. Just because this has a special name (Swine flu, Bird flu, SARS to name a few) is no cause to sensationalize it. If you get sick, go to the doctor and try not to infect everyone around you. Wash your hands, use a kleenex instead of your sleeve, and cover your mouth when you cough or sneeze like your mother taught you. All it takes is a teaspoon of intelligence, prevention, and common sense as opposed to surgical masks (hate to say it, but they're aren't going to clean the air you breathe no matter how much you want them to) and blowing things out of proportion.

    April 29, 2009 at 21:59 | Report abuse | Reply
  30. Anthony

    It does seem ironic that 100,000+ thousand people around the globe die from standard flu every year, and no-one makes as big of a deal about that pandemic, which occures every year. I suspect conspiracy writers will be going off on this one for years to come.

    April 30, 2009 at 00:15 | Report abuse | Reply
  31. heather

    There's a vaccine for the common flu..not for this. Also there hasn't only been 1 death, only 1 death in the US thus far. Atleast 150 people have died so far in Mexico. Please read.

    April 30, 2009 at 02:06 | Report abuse | Reply
  32. Barb

    I'm a little unclear on how this virus is mainly transmitted. On one Q&A it says that you can get the virus by touching something that has the swine virus on it and then touching your mouth, nose or eyes. On another Q&A, it says that getting the virus through surface contact is slim because it needs to get down into your lungs, say from someone coughing or sneezing near you. So how slim is slim on surface contact transmission?

    April 30, 2009 at 05:39 | Report abuse | Reply
  33. David Johnson

    The potential hog farm connection to the swine flu outbreak provides you and CNN an opportunity to investigate how our food is produced. Tell us about the impacts of widespread prophylactic use of antibiotics, air and water pollution, and respiratory infections of workers and those living nearby. Others on the CNN team will find interest in the decline of property values near CAFOs, increased pressure on County and State services by immigrant workers, and the incredible energy intensive nature of these hog factories. The difficulty, as you have already experienced, is access to the facilities and getting past the road blocks thrown up by these huge corporations and the Federal agencies committed to this model (read Department of Agriculture). They represent the essence of power in our system. Good Luck!

    April 30, 2009 at 08:43 | Report abuse | Reply
  34. D. Johnke

    As a health care professional, I just want to ask that those Health Care Professionals who are in the media discussing how to avoid contact with the virus would use this opportunity to teach the public how to cover their cough so as not to spread the virus by their hands.
    If one needs to cough, do so into the upper forearm by the elbow, NOT THE HAND. To prevent spread by contact of doors, tables chairs etc. As much as I love our President, I was shocked to hear the words "cover your cough" in his press conference without any further explanation. Most still instinctively use their hands. Please help teach the public there is a better way.

    April 30, 2009 at 09:28 | Report abuse | Reply
  35. George Fulmore

    So, we're being led to believe now that there was absolutely no connection between the original Dr. Gupta report of ground zero for the new flu outbreak and the Smithfield Farms site? Where, then, DID
    the flu begin? Are we now to believe it was just a world-wide virus that really had nothing to do with Mexico? Something seems wrong with this picture, for sure. In Texas, there is a law suit claiming that a death in the U.S. was connected with the Mexico pig farm site. What does Dr. Gupta have to say about all this? He sure seemed confident in his initial reports. What does he have to say now?

    May 16, 2009 at 02:50 | Report abuse | Reply
  36. emma

    i have diziness really bad and i sneeze and cough a ot. what should i do? i'm scared.

    July 4, 2009 at 06:49 | Report abuse | Reply
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Get a behind-the-scenes look at the latest stories from CNN Chief Medical Correspondent, Dr. Sanjay Gupta, Senior Medical Correspondent Elizabeth Cohen and the CNN Medical Unit producers. They'll share news and views on health and medical trends - info that will help you take better care of yourself and the people you love.