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Questions, with answers, about H1N1 (swine flu)

November 3, 2009 | 11:19 am

H1n1Who should get the H1N1 vaccine?

Pretty much everyone, health officials say, assuming a person hasn't already had the H1N1 flu. But don’t go elbowing to the front of the line just yet. With limited vaccine supplies available, some groups get priority because the virus poses greater risk to them than it does to most healthy adults. So if you’re not pregnant, a healthcare worker, age 6 months to 24 years, live with or care for an infant under 6 months, or have a compromised immune system, hold off.  As difficult as it may be, you need to wait until there’s enough vaccine available for all.

I’m at high risk – honest, I am. Where can I get the vaccine?

Go to your county health department’s website for a list of clinics and dates. In Los Angeles County, that’s lapublichealth.org.

Is the vaccine safe?

It would certainly seem to be. As one infectious disease specialist put it recently: "This H1N1 vaccine is made just like all the flu vaccines we have been making for 60 years, which have an extraordinary record for safety."

See Scientists aim to dispel fears on H1N1 flu vaccine

Why are young people more likely to be affected?

The short answer is, no one is sure. Some scientists blame a lack of exposure to similar strains of the flu; some suggest young people's immune responses go into overdrive. Regardless, a better understanding of this flu will be crucial to developing ways to fight it in the future. Here's a closer look at the mysteries of this flu strain.

See Swine flu virus causing confusion

Are pregnant women really more at risk?

Yes, yes, yes. Many of them are young, so they're more likely to be affected. And their immune systems are operating at lower capacity than usual so their bodies don't reject the fetus.

See H1N1 vaccine a tough sell to pregnant women

Should I get a seasonal flu vaccine?

Again, health experts recommend it for most people. They say that, just because the swine flu strain is the predominant -- by far -- strain in the community at the moment, that could change as we approach traditional flu season.

See Flu shot isn't for H1N1

What's so special about the swine flu?

Many things, not the least of which is its refusal to follow the standard cold-weather transmission patterns. The virus made a splash in the late spring, at the end of the traditional flu season, lingered through the summer and resurged well before the start of flu season in the winter. It's also easily spread. Very easily spread, affects young people more than old, and is a previously unseen combination of viruses found in pigs, humans and wild birds. Interesting, no?  

See How the new virus came to be.

How do I know if I have the flu?

If you have a fever, chills, head and chest congestion, assume that you do.  If you simply feel a little peaked or have the sniffles, assume that you don’t.

How do I know which flu I have?

If you have the flu, you can pretty much bet it's the novel H1N1 strain. Don’t be fooled by the limited number of “confirmed” flu cases in your school or office. Health officials aren’t even bothering to test in most suspected flu cases because, right now, that virus is pretty much the only game in town.

Have more questions?

Head to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. You could spend days there, exploring and learning about the H1N1 strain. And the news is always changing, so stay tuned here too.

-- Tami Dennis

Photo: The pandemic H1N1 strain of influenza virus.

Credit: Centers for Disease Control and Prevention

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