During the time of a pandemic, it is valuable to look to past pandemics and judge their effects. Eleven years ago, H1N1 swept the world just as COVID-19 is now. Although more than a decade has passed, many still see the effects today. Rylie Brown is one of those people. She contracted the illness when she was two, which led to acute disseminated encephalomyelites (ADEM). This neurological condition is a complication of H1N1 and has been compared to multiple sclerosis. It is this complication that affects Rylie’s life eleven years later.
H1N1, also known as swine flu, led to a global pandemic in 2009. Beginning in America, over 60 million people contracted the illness, leading to anywhere from 150,000 to 575,000 deaths throughout the world.
It is contracted in the same way the common flu is. Infected people sneeze or cough, and healthy individuals come into contact with those germs, whether that is direct or secondary contact. This disease can be spread one day before symptoms begin and up to ten days after.
Symptoms are similar to the common flu, including cough, fever, sore throat, body aches, headaches, stuffy and runny noses, fatigue, and chills. There are complications that can result from this illness, such as pneumonia, lung infections, and other respiratory issues. Those with underlying health issues and weaker immune systems are at the highest risk of complications.
Tests exist for the swine flu, but it is often difficult to tell the difference between H1N1 and the common flu. Doctors suggest that if you experience stomach pain or are vomiting that it may be swine flu. Testing is conducted using a swab from the back of the throat.
In terms of treatment, some of the same medications that work for the common flu are effective in treating H1N1. Tamiflu, Rapivab, and Relenza may all shorten the length of symptoms if they are taken within the first 48 hours of infection. Other than these drugs, treatment is symptomatic.
Rylie contracted H1N1 when she was two years old. Her parents followed doctors’ orders by giving her lots of rest and fluids, but this treatment simply didn’t work. They didn’t know it at the time, but it was because Rylie had contracted a complication of swine flu called acute disseminated encephalomyelites (ADEM). It affects the spinal cord and brain, causing symptoms similar to multiple sclerosis.
Now, over a decade later, Rylie still experiences the effects of H1N1 and its complications. She still has issues with her memory and cognitive processing, along with a very weak immune system. It is these lasting symptoms that force her to be very careful, especially during the time of a pandemic.
A charity has been helping Rylie search for a cure, called Miracle Flights. They work to connect those with rare diseases to doctors who are experts in their fields. Rylie will make her fifth trip soon in the hopes of finding effective treatment.
Her mother, Christi, stresses the importance of advocating for those with rare diseases in a time like this. Keep those with rare diseases in mind. Do all that you can to stay healthy and stop the spread of this pandemic. Advocate for those at a higher risk of complications.
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