October 8th, 2009
10:39 AM ET

Is it H1N1 or seasonal flu and how do we treat it?

As a new feature of CNNhealth.com, our team of expert doctors will answer readers' questions. Here are two questions for Dr. Gupta.

From Kat in College Park, Maryland:

“Is it possible to get swine flu (or regular flu, for that matter) twice in the same season?”

Once you’ve had the flu, your chance of getting it again in the same season is low. Your body builds antibodies to protect against it. This basically means if you contract that same exact strain, your body fights it off naturally, typically before you’d notice any symptoms. There are a couple of concerns, though, and one that we've been talking about almost since the beginning, and that is that the virus can mutate. It can start to change. If it mutated, a couple of things could happen. A person who has already had H1N1, would no longer be protected. But also, the people who get the vaccine being shipped out now, which is designed specifically to protect against this strain of H1N1, also wouldn’t have protection if it mutates. 

From Vanessa in Gholson, Texas:

“My kids are sick with flu-like symptoms. I’m not sure if I should take them to the doctor but would like to confirm if my children have H1N1 or not. Should we go?”

Great question and one I’ve been getting a lot from viewers. Should a person with flu-like symptoms go to the doctor? For the vast majority of people reading this right now, the answer is no. You will have a few miserable days but most likely not need any medical attention whatsoever.

There are some high-risk groups that would need medical attention, but, a good rule of thumb is if you think you are sick enough that you would have gone to the doctor a few years ago for flu-like symptoms, then you can go this year as well. But don't treat this differently simply because it has a different name of H1N1.

As far as getting tested, this is really interesting. When we first started reporting on this virus back in the spring, health officials were trying to figure out exactly what the virus was and confirm whether it was H1N1. They were doing a lot of testing then to help investigate what areas of the country it spread to. But now we know this virus is pretty much everywhere. And the CDC isn’t recommending health providers test for it in most cases because they don't need that information anymore.   Also, the patient probably wouldn’t be medically treated any differently from the treatment for seasonal flu.

soundoff (30 Responses)
  1. Sarah in Denver, CO

    Hi Dr. Gupta; I am a 30-year old Consultant and travel cross-country every Monday through Thursday for work. I am not in one of the five high-priority groups as designated by the CDC to receive the H1N1 vaccine, but am considering searching out the vaccine once it becomes available in my area. I feel being on four flights every week gives me greater exposure to potentially infected people, sitting in a confined space, breathing re-circulated air... I've never received the regular flu shot as I'm rarely sick but all this talk about people dying has me concerned. Do you feel I am at a greater risk because I fly so much for work? If so, I'll definitely err on the safe side & just get the vaccine. Thanks.

    October 11, 2009 at 19:01 | Report abuse | Reply
  2. Aimee

    No matter what I would vaccinate my kids. Deaths for young people have already almost reached the height of last year's flu season and will surpass it. There is no rhyme or reason to what happens when kids get swine flu – most recover – but healthy ones have and continue to die. A new web site, http://www.feelingflu.com, can help you get all of the facts from a healthcare information company that only uses research-based content. It has an assessment you can take to determine if you have the flu or need to be vaccinated.

    October 13, 2009 at 18:53 | Report abuse | Reply
  3. Cheryl Cooper

    While at my doctor office yesterday I asked about the H1N1 vaccine. I was told they do not know when or if they will receive any. I was also told it will be very expensive...like $300. Since I do not have health insurance, because I cannot afford it, the expense of the H1N1 vaccine will factor into whether to get the shot. Of course, I am 62 yrs. old, so I am last on the list for the vaccine anyway.

    October 16, 2009 at 12:27 | Report abuse | Reply
  4. Fozia

    The flu arrived at our house last week. As a single, working parent it was a challenge to convince co-workers and friends that myself and my other child were asymptomatic and okay to walk among our fellow man. I think that we talk too much about one type of flu vs. another and that the goal needs to be wash your hands, cover your mouth when you cough/sneeze, keep your fingers away from your face, stay home if you have a fever and avoid the epidemic of fear. I fell victim to the fear and worked myself into a flare-up of my asthma. It took nearly the same amount of time for me to recover from this as it did for my child to recover from the flu – though my asthma flare-up cost me 3 times as much. Play it smart – work your brain not your fear.

    October 16, 2009 at 15:11 | Report abuse | Reply
  5. Lisa

    Over the past summer my family and I came down with the flu. When I took my sick 5 years old to the hospital the doctor stated that she may have the H1N1. However, the hospital did not test my daughter to confirm if she had the virus. The doctor stated that they were not testing on a local level. Now, I'm confused wondering if we had the virus or not this summer.
    I really do not want to give the vaccine to my kids if they do not need it. Not sure why they stopped testing for the virus. By now, a lot of people going out to get the vaccine may not even need it. Now, the lastest news is there is not enough vaccine. There may people already had the virus trying to get the vacccine. Shouldn't the vaccine be for the people who haven't had the virus? Shouldn't the people who had the virus already not get the vaccine?


    October 20, 2009 at 01:25 | Report abuse | Reply
  6. Mindy

    Cheryl Cooper: Your doctor is a crook. The H1N1 vaccine is free. The government has already paid for all the vaccine being manufactured and distributes at no charge to state health department. Some places may charge an "administration fee". But if your doctor is trying to charge $300, he is robbing his patients blind. You should be able to get a free H1N1 vaccine at your local health department, when they have enough available. In the meantime, start looking for a new doctor!

    October 30, 2009 at 00:40 | Report abuse | Reply
  7. Ronald Grillwall

    Dr Gupta ~

    Sorry, missed putting the word "vaccine" in my post

    It has been stated that 1/3 of the deaths related to H1N1 were because of bacterial pneumonia. However, even though the pneumonia VACCINE carries no real risk, I have been denied the ability to get one because I am not over 65, smoke, have asthma or an immune issue.

    If the shot carries no real risk, but a possible benefit, why not just make it available to those that wish to reduce their risk (are in the middle age group..40s) and who cannot get an H1N1 shot?


    November 5, 2009 at 16:58 | Report abuse | Reply
  8. Chang Critchfield

    In my estimation, thechart.blogs.cnn.com does a good job of covering issues like this! While often deliberately polemic, the information is in the main well researched and stimulating.


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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.