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Swine Flu and Chronic Conditions

Experts explain the risks of swine flu for people with chronic health conditions.
WebMD Feature
Reviewed by Louise Chang, MD

Confused about swine flu? Even the name of this flu can be puzzling. Usually called swine flu, you'll also hear it called 2009 H1N1 flu and novel influenza A (H1N1). No wonder we're all a little baffled.

But swine flu isn't that hard to understand; it's a lot like seasonal flu. It has similar symptoms, such as fever, cough, sore throat, stuffy nose, body aches, headache, chills, and fatigue. As a matter of fact, it's hard to tell swine flu from seasonal flu without a lab test.

Swine Flu Outbreak: Get the Facts

Swine Flu Slideshow

Learn more about the H1N1 swine flu and see what you can do to stay healthy.

View the slideshow.

To learn more about this flu, and to find out if pregnant women or people with chronic conditions like asthma, diabetes, neurologic disease, lung disease,  or heart disease should be particularly concerned, WebMD went to experts in internal medicine and gerontology for answers about the H1N1 virus.

Is swine flu a particular concern for adults with chronic illnesses?

Yes, says Joseph W. Stubbs, MD, FACP, president of the American College of Physicians and a doctor of internal medicine. That's because pregnant women and people with chronic conditions are more susceptible to severe flu, and are also more prone to flu complications, such as secondary infections and severe pneumonia.

According to the CDC, about two thirds of H1N1 hospitalizations and deaths have been in people with underlying conditions.

Are children with chronic conditions also susceptible to swine flu?

Swine flu, which seems as contagious as the seasonal flu, is spreading fastest among the young. In the U.S. and around the world, young people are most severely affected. Unlike seasonal flu, in which 90% of severe flu cases are in people over age 65, 90% of severe H1N1 flu cases have been in people under age 65.

Is everyone with a chronic condition at equal risk for swine flu?

"Anything that can affect the health of a person is going to be more of a concern for people with underlying illnesses," says Aaron E. Glatt, MD, president and CEO of New Island Hospital in New York, and a professor of clinical medicine. "People who're at an especially higher risk are those with underlying heart and lung diseases, or a compromised immune system."

Also at greater risk are "people whose immune systems are not well," says Stubbs, such as those coping with AIDS or chemotherapy, as well as children under 5. Because children this age haven't been exposed to as many viruses, "we put them in the same category as those with chronic illnesses," Stubbs says.

If you're coping with a chronic illness, you "should take the risk of this flu very seriously," says Glatt.

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