Six Things You Should Know About H1N1 (Swine) Flu
New America Media, News Report, Ngoc Nguyen and Viji Sundaram Posted: Nov 06, 2009
Editor’s note: There is a lot of confusion around H1N1 (“swine”) flu because the situation is changing every day and messages from public health officials are not always clear. New America Media editors compiled this list of the top six things you should know about how to deal with H1N1 based on interviews with doctors Ricky Y. Choi, head of pediatrics at Asian Health Services, and John Murphy, head of emergency preparedness Clinica de la Raza. Both Oakland-based clinics are offering swine flu vaccines.
1. How serious is the H1N1 (swine) flu?
Influenza is a serious illness. Every year 36,000 Americans die from the seasonal flu and many more are hospitalized. The majority of people will do fine and only suffer from muscle aches and fever for about a week. This year is a special case with the H1N1 strain of influenza, and public health officials expect many more people will get infected. Already, nationwide, there are 26,000 hospitalizations and almost 3,000 deaths from the seasonal and swine flu this year.
2. What are the symptoms of swine flu and when should I be concerned?
The symptoms of 2009 H1N1 flu virus in people include fever, cough, sore throat, runny or stuffy nose, body aches, headache, chills and fatigue. Some people may have vomiting and diarrhea. Not everyone with flu will have a fever.
Most people with 2009 H1N1 have had mild illness and have not needed medical care or antiviral drugs, and the same is true of seasonal flu. Most people with symptoms of the flu are advised to stay home and avoid contact with people.
3. How many vaccines are there and who should get vaccinated?
Two flu vaccines are recommended this fall and winter - seasonal flu vaccine and H1N1 flu vaccine. Both are available in the form of an injectable shot or nasal spray.
Both flu vaccines are recommended for everyone, but those at high risk of complications from the seasonal flu and H1N1 flu are especially encouraged to get vaccinated. They include:
-all children and people from 6 months through 24 years of age
-people who care for children aged 5 years or younger, especially those who care for infants 6 months or younger. (Children less than 6 months of age cannot receive influenza vaccination.)
-People of all ages with chronic medical conditions including heart disease, diabetes, asthma, and weakened immune systems.
4. What are the health risks from getting the H1N1 vaccine?
The H1N1 vaccine is essentially the same vaccine as the seasonal influenza vaccine. The only difference is that the H1N1 vaccine contains parts of the H1N1 virus so as to trigger a protective response in our bodies against the H1N1 specifically. The most common side effect is pain at the site of injection. All treatments have some sort of side effects. However, when balancing the cost (rare if any side effects) to the benefits (avoiding illness and possibly death), the benefit far outweighs the costs to getting the H1N1 vaccine.
5. Why is there a vaccine shortage?
Those who have decided to get vaccinated are now finding difficulty getting it. The vaccine manufacturers overestimated how quickly they could produce the vaccine and so vaccines are being produced, but at a slower rate than expected. Clinics are getting small amounts of vaccine at unpredictable times. As a consequence, vaccine distribution centers have a limited supply of vaccine and do not know when they will get the next shipment. The Center for Disease Control assures us that there will be enough vaccine for everyone who wants it, but due to slow production, it is especially important that the high priority groups get it first.
6. If I want to get vaccinated, where do I go?
Seasonal flu and H1N1 flu vaccines will be available through doctors’ offices and at other locations, including community clinics. Contact your local or county health department to find out where to get the flu shot.
To learn more about H1N1, visit www.cdc.gov/H1N1FLU
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