Nancy's Story: Recovery After H1N1
Recovering From H1N1
What to expect after you've been struck with the swine flu.
By Karen Asp
Medically Reviewed by Kevin O. Hwang, MD, MPH
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You did everything you could to avoid it, but somehow, you got bitten by that nasty H1N1 flu bug. Getting sick is never fun, but this experience certainly hasn't been any picnic, which is making you wonder how your recovery's going to go. Fortunately, recovering from the H1N1 flu (swine flu) isn't much different than recovering from the seasonal flu. You just need to employ a little patience.
Generally, people who contract the H1N1 flu will feel sick and run a fever anywhere from three to five days. The first three days, though, are usually the worst, with the first half of that period making you feel the most miserable. "During those first three days, you'll experience fever, headaches, and muscle and joint aches," says Christopher A. Ohl, MD, associate professor of internal medicine-infectious diseases at Wake Forest University Baptist Medical Center in Winston-Salem, N.C. Treatment, of course, includes resting as much as possible, staying hydrated, and eating as your body allows to keep up your strength. You should also keep yourself isolated from others to avoid spreading germs. If your healthcare provider prescribed medication, such as oseltamivir (Tamiflu), then take it as directed.
After about three days, those symptoms usually subside, although this can vary from one individual to another. Yet not until you've been without fever for 24 hours without the use of fever-reducing medications should you head back to work or school. The same 24 hour timeframe applies for most healthcare workers. However, if you are a healthcare worker in an area with patients who have weak immune systems, you need to stay home for seven days from the beginning of symptoms or until symptoms are gone (whichever is longer), even if your fever has broken earlier.
Some swine flu symptoms such as cough and fatigue could linger longer than three to five days. You might, for instance, still have a cough two weeks later. That's little cause for concern unless your other symptoms return. If your fever reappears, you begin to have trouble breathing again or your cough is getting worse, see your doctor. "Although this is rare, these signs indicate that there may be a secondary bacterial infection like pneumonia or ear infections, especially in children," Dr. Ohl says.
Lingering fatigue up to a couple of weeks after H1N1 may also occur. "You might notice that you get fatigued faster than you normally would doing daily activities, which is why it's best to get back into things slowly," says Mack Land, MD, infectious disease specialist at the University of Tennessee Medical Group and professor of medicine at the University of Tennessee Health Science Center in Memphis, Tenn.. That includes regular exercise and any physical labor required in your job. Don't expect to rush back into these tasks after the flu; instead, give yourself several days to build your stamina.
The good news, though, is that once you've had the H1N1 flu, your body has developed immunity to it. That doesn't mean you're 100 percent protected if you come in contact with H1N1 again, but you will stand a better chance of fending it off.
Video: James' Story: Severe H1N1 Flu Recovery
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