So far, swine flu isn’t much more threatening than regular seasonal flu.
During the few months of this new flu’s existence, hospitalizations and deaths from it seem to be lower than the average seen for seasonal flu, and the virus hasn’t dramatically mutated. That’s what health officials have observed in the Southern Hemisphere where flu season is now winding down.
Even though you’re not panicking, keep in mind H1N1 may re-emerge this fall and winter so be prepared.
Swine flu is more of a threat to certain groups — children under 2, pregnant women, people with health problems like asthma, diabetes and heart disease. Teens and young adults are also more vulnerable to H1N1.
Get Children Vaccinated
These groups should be first in line for H1N1 shots, especially if vaccine supplies are limited — people 6 months to 24 years old, pregnant women, health care workers.
Also a priority: Parents and caregivers of infants, people with those high-risk medical conditions previously noted.
Takes a While for Immunity to Build Up
You’ll need two H1N1 shots and it will take a while for immunity to build up. If you get your first in mid-October and a second three weeks later, it will take another three weeks (around the time of Thanksgiving) for you to have full immunity from the virus.
What If You Get Sick?
If you have other health problems or are pregnant and develop flu-like symptoms, call your doctor right away. You may be prescribed Tamiflu or Relenza. These drugs can reduce the severity of swine flu if taken right after symptoms start.
Only go to the hospital if you have a temperature above 100 degrees, body aches and pains, headache and vomiting and diarrhea.
If you head to the hospital with nothing more than the common cold, you may leave with something far worse – like H1N1, health experts say.
Wash Hands Often
Wash your hands often. Use hand sanitizer if soap and water is not available. How long should you spend cleaning your hands? A good rule of thumb is to sing “Happy Birthday to Me” while you’re washing. By the time the song is over, you should be nice and clean.
No Risk From Pork
You can’t catch H1N1 from pork — or poultry either (even though it recently turned up in turkeys in Chile). Swine flu is not spread by handling meat, whether it’s raw or cooked. Instead, it is spread from person to person through coughing, sneezing and handling infected items such as doorknobs, remote controls and refrigerator door handles.
Vaccines Are Being Tested
Health officials presume the swine flu vaccine is safe and effective, but they’re testing it to make sure.
The federal government has begun studies in eight cities across the country to assess its effectiveness and figure out the best dose. Vaccine makers are doing their own tests as well.
Get Vaccinated Early
Millions of H1N1 vaccine shots should be available by October. If you are in one of the priority groups, try to get your shot as early as possible.
Check with your doctor or local or state health department about where to do this. Many children should be able to get vaccinated at school. Permission forms will be sent home in advance.
Surrounded by Flu
If an H1N1 outbreak happens and you are not vaccinated, avoid crowded areas such as sporting events, malls and churches. Remember to continuously wash or sanitize hands when in a crowded area, especially before eating, or rubbing your eyes or nose.