By Serena Gordon
THURSDAY, Nov. 12 (HealthDay News) -- Like most people, I've been following the news about the H1N1 swine flu with some concern. Unlike most people, however, I've spent years interviewing doctors.
And from the many hours talking with infectious-disease specialists, I knew that it was never a matter of if there might be another flu pandemic, but when.
The question was, would H1N1 turn out to be that dangerous pandemic flu, or not?
Since most reports of H1N1 swine flu have described a mild illness for the majority of those infected, I wasn't especially worried for my family or for myself.
Perhaps I should have been, because, despite repeated reports from health experts around the world that the swine flu isn't all that bad as far as flu goes, it can pose serious problems for those with chronic medical conditions such as asthma, diabetes and heart disease.
And I have asthma.
Still, I took the few precautions that all of those doctors have always told me -- thorough hand washing, not sharing hand towels, wiping down common surfaces like doorknobs and phones with antimicrobial products -- and we planned on getting the H1N1 vaccine as soon as it became available.
But, at the start of school this year, flu quickly spread through my daughter's high school. It turned out those disinfectant gel stations scattered throughout the school were no match for a quickly replicating virus. My daughter ended up missing her second full week of school because she had a fever, muscle aches, a sore throat and a persistent cough. Her doctor ruled out strep, and when I asked if she had H1N1 swine flu, he said, "Could be."
By Thursday of that week, I started feeling very tired and achy, but not terrible. By Friday night, I'd developed a slight fever and was coughing a bit, but still didn't feel awful.
But the next morning, my chest started to feel a bit heavy, and the cough was worsening. By the end of the day, I could barely breathe.
My mild asthma is well-controlled most of the time, but now I was wheezing a lot, short of breath and my lungs felt as if they were weighted down. At one point it felt as if they were burning. I couldn't believe how quickly I found myself in serious respiratory trouble. I'd never had symptoms like that before, and I'd had pneumonia a number of times in the past.
I have plenty of asthma medications on hand to help control symptoms, but even at the maximum dosage, I was having trouble getting enough air.
I'd also developed full-blown flu symptoms -- a fever, muscle aches, coughing, inflamed throat, headache, but no sneezing or sniffling. The fever and muscle aches -- the real flu part -- weren't too severe. In fact, as flu goes, it was mild. But, my chest symptoms -- exacerbated by my asthma -- were another story.
By Sunday evening, I was having so much trouble breathing that I considered going to the emergency room. I decided to wait, but headed to the doctor on Monday. The waiting room was chock-full of flu misery. Almost everyone there had a nearly non-stop cough, and those who weren't coughing shot accusatory glances at those of us who were.
My doctor said I likely had the flu, but she didn't hear pneumonia in my lungs yet. I left with a handful of prescriptions, including one for oral corticosteroid medications to help open up my airways. She also recommended that I head to the hospital for a chest X-ray. Because I'm a health reporter, I'm somewhat leery of unnecessary radiation exposure, so I asked if she thought it was absolutely necessary. She said I could wait until the morning, but if the steroid medications didn't help, I shouldn't wait longer than that.
After I'd left, I realized I'd forgotten to ask the all-important question -- was this the H1N1 swine flu? I certainly suspected it, because the serious lung symptoms came on faster than any illness I'd ever had before.
When I got home, I checked the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention's surveillance Web site, and discovered that the only flu strain really active in my area of New York state was type A. Of those that were type A, half were sub-typed and tested positively as H1N1. The other half weren't sub-typed, but I suspect most were probably H1N1.