HIV and H1N1 Influenza (Swine Flu)

July 15, 2010

H1N1 Flu (commonly known as ‘swine flu’) is a seriouis flu disease caused by an influenza virus and has been declared by the WHO as a world-wide pandemic (214 countries as of 2010).  The current pandemic (which was noticed in mid 2009) has killed an 18,000 people world-wide.

H1N1 Flu virus is spread through droplets in the air when people suffering from H1N1 infection cough and sneeze.  The H1N1 virus has shown that it is highly infectious – which is why it has spread so far despite the efforts of governments around the world to protect their citizens from the disease.

While the H1N1 flu is a cause for concern – we need not panic.   The last year’s experience has shown that most people infected with H1N1 flu were able to fight the virus successfully – mostly without special treatment other than the normal steps taken when a person has the flu.   The H1N1 virus did however cause severe illenesses (resulting in deaths when not quickly and intensively treated) in the following at-risk populations:

  • pregnant women;
  • infants, and young children particularly under age 2;
  • people of any age with certain chronic health conditions (including asthma or lung disease, heart disease, diabetes, kidney disease or some neurological conditions);
  • people with severely compromised immune systems – which includes many people who have HIV/AIDS.

As a nation, India has not been spared.  Starting with infections in mid 2009, over 29,000 known cases of H1N1 were reported – and over 1300 Indians were reported to have died from the flu.  A particularly  high profile case of H1N1 infection was the CM of Gujarat Sri Narendra Modi. Maharasthra bore the brunt of the infections with over 470 people officially recorded to have died of H1N1 flu since August 2009 – the largest number of any Indian state.

As this post is being written (July 14, 2010) we have just heard that 330 new cases were reported across India last week – with 91 of those coming from Maharashtra.

We thus need to protect ourselves from H1N1 – especially if we are HIV positive which means that our immune system is lower than most others – and that we are at higher risk of getting the infection.

How can we prevent H1N1?  Last year – when the papers had reports of daily deaths in Pune and Mumbai – all of Mumbai started wearing surgical masks.  People who could not afford masks wore handkerchiefs or put their dupattas over their faces.  Then after a few days of slightly lower death reports in the papers most stopped wearing them.

How can we best protect ourselves?

Obviously by covering your mouth and nose while coughing and sneezing.  That holds true any airborne disease – TB and other viral infections like the common cold spread this way too.  Its just good manners for me to keep the germs that are troubling me to myself.

Here is a little secret – which will do a HUGE amount of GOOD – for both HIV positive and HIV negative people:


Yes that is right!  The flu spreads through the air – but it is usually when we touch the virus with our hands – and then our eyes, nose, or mouth – that the virus is most efficiently transmitted.  So how to break this chain of transmission?  WASH YOUR HANDS!

But how do we do that?  Don’t we wash our hands enough already?

Well, here it is – we need to really scrub.  And we can do so in 6 easy – but thorough steps.   Each one of these steps should be done for at least 30 seconds.   The whole procedure should take enough time for you to sing ‘happy birthday to you’ in your mind – twice!

Have we learned?  Lets do it.

Our health is very precious.  Whether we are HIV positive or not – hand-washing makes a huge impact on our health.  And if we are immuno-compromised with HIV – then it can be the difference between life and death!

Do we want to prevent the spread of H1N1?  Wash hands.  Wash hands.  Wash hands!



But what if I feel sick already – and especially if I know that I have HIV?  What should I do?

Well as you can see from the picture above,  the symptoms of H1N1 flu can include:

+ fever,
+ cough,
+ cold,
+ headache,
+ bodyache,
+ diarhoea and or vomiting,
+ breathing difficulty,
+ drowsyness and or / altered conciousness
Any HIV positive person (child or adult) with 2 of the first and at least one of the second group of symptoms should immediately go to a doctor and be treated with Oseltamivir (Tamiflu).

For those of us who are living with HIV – we must take our health seriously.  Do not be afraid to go to a doctor for medical advice. The time to treat is now – not later!