The potentially deadly strain of influenza A has reached Costa Rica half a decade after the global pandemic supposedly ended.
There’s been a lot of hype in the recent weeks about H1N1 making a comeback in Costa Rica, but what’s really happening? Should you be concerned? Check some of these frequently asked questions regarding the most recent outbreak, or submit your own in the comments below.
What does it mean to have H1N1, Swine Flu or Type A Influenza?
[dropcap]A:[/dropcap] The flu is caused by various influenza viruses which can be categorized into three types: A, B and C. Influenza Type A is the most frequently occurring. Within each type, flu viruses can be further broken down into viral serotypes. H1N1 is a serotype of influenza A.
That said, viruses are constantly evolving, creating new strains or variants each year. Dr. James M. Steckelberg of the Mayo Clinic explains, “There are many different strains of H1N1 flu.” Furthermore, a new type of influenza emerged in 2011 called H3N2. Both H1N1 and H3N2 were included in the 2015-16 flu shot.
As for the “swine flu,” this name was picked-up by media in 2009 to describe the H1N1 disease, though it technically belongs to pig influenza that has been transferred to humans. The virus transferred by pigs and the human H1N1 virus share many similar genes, leading to the mix-up.[/td_text_with_title][td_text_with_title custom_title=”Question 2″]
But wasn’t the H1N1 pandemic over in 2010?
[dropcap]A:[/dropcap] Yes and no. According to the World Health Organization, H1N1 was a global pandemic that ran officially from 2009 until 2010. This means that following 2010, the virus was better controlled and no longer infected as many people as before. Nevertheless, H1N1 continues to circulate with all the other season flu virus into the modern day.[/td_text_with_title][td_text_with_title custom_title=”Question 3″]
What are the symptoms of H1N1? Why is it dangerous?
[dropcap]A:[/dropcap] By and large, H1N1 appears as a more severe version of the average flu. Symptoms include:
- Fever (but not always)
- Sore throat
- Runny or stuffy nose
- Watery, red eyes
- Body aches
- Nausea and vomiting
Like H3N2 and influenza B, H1N1 can potentially lead to pneumonia, encephalitis and other serious complications.[/td_text_with_title][td_text_with_title custom_title=”Question 4″]
What makes this outbreak different from the others?
[dropcap]A:[/dropcap] When H1N1 broke out in 2009-2010, there were deaths, but most were patients who were already at high risk for infection due to age or other health ailment.
As of Tuesday, H1N1 has been the confirmed cause of death for seven patients in Costa Rica — five of which were in San Carlos and two in Cartago. At least half of all victims were between the ages of 18 and 40 years old with no known health issues prior to the infection.
[quote_box_center]UPDATE: A new report citing La Caja claims a total of 10 deaths related to H1N1: five from the San Carlos Hospita, three in Alajuela’s, on in Max Peralta de Cartago and one in a private facility.
UPDATE: As of January 19, 2016, the death count stands at 28.[/quote_box_center]
According to the Deputy Minister of Health, Dr. Maria Esther Anchía:
[quote_center]“It has become clear that the behavior of respiratory infections this year was different since the peak was in December and not in September as is common, and that the H1N1 virus, which is more aggressive, is displacing the A H3N2, which is the most common.”[/quote_center]
Additional deaths are currently under investigation by the OIJ.[/td_text_with_title][td_text_with_title custom_title=”Question 5″]
What is Costa Rica doing to contain the problem?
[dropcap]A:[/dropcap] Medical intern, Richard Oliver currently works at one of the ten public clinics in Ciudad Quesada, ground zero of the outbreak here in Costa Rica. Each day, around five potential cases enter that clinic alone.
Oliver explains that the public health officials in the area are taking matters very seriously:
[quote_center]“[The San Carlos hospital] has stopped allowing patient visitors. They are asking people not to go to the ER unless it’s a real emergency. If you must go to the hospital or ER, wear a mask.”[/quote_center]
Such masks are provided by many hospitals, but can be picked up at medical supply stores and some pharmacies too.
The hospital has also increased their staff so as to better serve the high influx of consultations as well as implemented a special cubical for suspected H1N1 cases in the emergency room.
Cartago has taken similar preventative measures.[/td_text_with_title][td_text_with_title custom_title=”Question 6″]
I already had H1N1 years ago. Can I get it again?
[dropcap]A:[/dropcap] Not likely. If you truly had the H1N1 flu, your body’s immune system should have developed a virus-specific response to keep you safe from future infections.
If, however, you had a different strain of influenza type A or B during the epidemic and were misdiagnosed with H1N1 by a medical professional — unlikely but possible — or you were self-diagnosed, then you could still be at risk for developing swine flu.
Alternatively, if your body has or had a weakened immune system, it’s possible that you did not develop full immunity during your previous infection. In such a case, it may still be possible to develop this particular variant of the flu again.[/td_text_with_title][td_text_with_title custom_title=”Question 7″]
What should I do if I show symptoms of H1N1?
[dropcap]A:[/dropcap] Dr. Xiomara Badilla, Coordinator of Epidemiological Surveillance for La Caja states:
[quote_center]“We have identified outbreaks… We must be vigilant, [and] take preventative measures with hand washing and sneezing protocols.”[/quote_center]
If you suspect that you may have H1N1, doctors recommend washing your hands frequently, using a face mask and seeking professional care as soon as possible.[/td_text_with_title]