Which kind of flu virus might you have?

Recently, there has been a great deal of focus on the H1N1 (swine) flu virus. The vaccine is becoming more plentiful and prevention messages have helped to stress the importance of stopping the spread of this new flu strain.

Flu-like illness has been widespread in our communities and many people who have been sick believe that H1N1 (swine) flu was the cause of their discomfort. Testing all flu-like illness for confirmation of H1N1 (swine) flu (or other pathogens) would be both logistically and financially impossible. As a result, the actual cause of many mild forms of respiratory illness is unknown.

If you think you have had the H1N1 (swine) flu and as a result feel that you do not need a vaccination to protect against the virus, it is worth a reminder that there are numerous other causes of respiratory illnesses that increase during the winter months. Some of these have similar symptoms to the H1N1 (swine) flu and the seasonal flu.

Coconino County Health Department (CCHD) officials recently received reports of this season's first two cases of respiratory syncytial virus (RSV) in Coconino County. Both cases occurred in residents of the Page area. According to CCHD officials, there are likely unreported cases of the illness in other parts of the County.

RSV is a contagious viral disease of the lungs and breathing passages, which can cause serious illness in infants, young children and older adults. In fact, RSV is the most common cause of bronchiolitis (inflammation of the small airways in the lung) and pneumonia in children under 1 year of age in the United States.

In addition, RSV is more often being recognized as an important cause of respiratory illness in older adults. The RSV season usually begins in October or November, but generally doesn't peak until the winter months and can last through April/May.

RSV symptoms are like those of many other respiratory illnesses. Illness usually begins four to six days after exposure with a runny nose and decrease in appetite. Coughing, sneezing, and fever typically develop one to three days later. Wheezing may also occur. In very young infants, irritability, decreased activity, and breathing difficulties may be the only symptoms of infection. RSV also can lead to more serious illnesses, such as pneumonia and bronchiolitis, in both children and adults.

RSV spreads when an infected person coughs or sneezes, sending respiratory droplets into the air. It also can live on surfaces (such as doorknobs and countertops) and on hands, so it can be spread when a person touches something contaminated. RSV can survive on hard surfaces such as tables and crib rails for many hours. RSV typically lives on soft surfaces such as tissues and hands for shorter amounts of time. Children often pass the virus to one another at their school or daycare center.

This emphasizes the important message to parents who may be questioning the need to immunize their children against swine flu, thinking they have already had the disease. There is no vaccine to prevent RSV.

If you think that you or your child might have an RSV infection that requires medical care, contact your healthcare provider. The healthcare provider will evaluate the severity of the illness and decide how best to treat it. RSV symptoms in most infants, children, and adults usually clear up on their own in a week or two.

Other illnesses that occur during the winter months include strep throat, pertussis, rhinovirus, and other viral respiratory illnesses. Rhinovirus is better known as the key cause of the common cold. Many people who have been sick this fall may have fallen victim to rhinovirus. The common cold is also caused by several other viruses.

Because the flu and the common cold have similar symptoms, it can be difficult to tell them apart. Generally cold symptoms are milder than the flu. Common cold symptoms include sore throat, stuffy nose, runny nose, cough and mild fever. The flu often causes higher fever, cough, chills, sore throat, muscle/body aches, runny nose, and fatigue. Most healthcare providers do not test for the causes of the common cold.

Although flu activity has been decreasing in recent weeks, both seasonal and H1N1 (swine) flu will likely increase during or soon after the holiday season, as influenza often has during past flu seasons.

Visit www.coconino/az.gov/health for more information.

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