Influenza, including H1N1 and seasonal flu, can pose special problems for people who have underlying medical conditions, like some kinds of arthritis; and there are two bugs to worry about this fall.

H1N1, dubbed “swine flu” when it arrived in the U.S. this spring, is currently resurging, sending kids who’ve just barely had a chance to crack open their new school supplies back home to their sickbeds.

And in a few weeks, the seasonal influenza, which tends to peak between November and February, should be back in circulation.

With all those germs around, it’s easy to feel anxious, but don’t put on a moon suit just yet. We’ve gathered some answers to help you stay healthy through this year’s season of dueling influenzas. 

Why all the fuss over H1N1?

H1N1 is virus that causes an illness that’s very similar to seasonal influenza. It was designated a pandemic by the World Health Organization, or WHO, earlier this year. While an influenza pandemic may sound scary, the designation is only meant to reflect how many different countries and regions of the world the virus has hit, not the severity of the illness.

In fact, the WHO says H1N1 fits into the moderate category, meaning that most people who get it will recover without the need for hospitalization or medical care. 

But in some cases, the flu can be deadly, and this strain is no exception. Out of the hundreds of thousands estimated to have been infected by H1N1 in the U. S.  this year, more than 9,000 have been hospitalized, and 593 have died, according to the most recent government data.

How can I protect myself from the flu?

Dr. Scott Zashin, MD, a rheumatologist in Dallas and clinical associate professor at the University of Texas Southwestern Medical School, stresses the importance of washing your hands for at least thirty seconds and using an alcohol-based sanitizer if soap and water isn’t available.

Mary Ryan, a nurse practitioner at the Kansas City Family Medical Center in Missouri, who is a member of Arthritis Today’s Medical Advisory Board, says good nutrition, adequate sleep and exercise are other simple ways to protect your health and keep your immune system strong.

She says it is also important to think about where you are going before you leave the house during flu season, especially if you have a compromised immune system. Being out in public and around crowds can put some people at risk of contracting the illness.

“We want people to be social and interact with people, but truly there is a risk, and you have to protect your immune system first,” she explains.

“Choose where you go. You might not want to go into a school to visit your grandchildren, but have them visit you on the weekend so you aren’t so prone to getting it. That’s the kind of thing that can really keep you healthy.”

Dr. Zashin says if you are on immunosuppressants, and you have a history of getting sick easily, you might want to buy some N95 masks. You can order them off the Internet, and he says they may be more effective in preventing exposure because of the way they’re formed to fit over the nose and mouth.

How can I tell if I have it?

People who get H1N1 may experience fever that is usually over 100 degrees, fatigue, lack of appetite, cough, sore throat, body aches, headache, chills and fatigue ­– roughly the same symptoms as with the seasonal flu.

Many who have posted their experiences with H1N1 on the Internet say it started with a mild cough that got progressively worse and a splitting headache or sore throat.

Additionally, the WHO says that some people with H1N1 will also get an extra surprise ­– diarrhea and/or vomiting – two symptoms that are rare with seasonal flu.

How long is a person with the flu contagious?

A person with seasonal flu can typically give the virus to others for about seven days, beginning the day before they start showing symptoms.

The H1N1 strain, though, appears to be a different story.  Two recent studies presented at the Interscience Conference on Antimicrobial Agents and Chemotherapy, in San Francisco, suggest that people with this strain may shed the virus for as long as 12 days after they’ve been infected.

Current government guidelines recommend that infected people stay home from work or school for at least a day after their fever breaks, but researchers think it may be better for patients to stay home until after they stop coughing.