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This is an explanation of 10 important points about swine flu, also known as the H1N1 virus

Ariion Kathleen Brindley

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1. What is swine flu?

Swine flu is the name for the new strain of influenza virus that is circulating around the globe. It first appeared in April of 2009 in the U.S. and Mexico, and has quickly spread to all parts of the world.

2. What are the symptoms of swine flu?

The symptoms of swine flu are exactly the same as the symptoms of seasonal flu, which include fever, coughing, sore throat, runny nose, body aches, and fatigue.

There is nothing about swine flu that tells you it is swine flu and not seasonal flu, so you really have to look to public health and say, ďHey, whatís going on in my community?Ē This summer, if you had flu symptoms, it is likely that you had swine flu because that was all that was circulating.

3. How many people have died from swine flu?

Itís hard to say exactly how many people have died from swine flu. From April through the end of August, the CDC reported 9,079 swine flu hospitalizations and 593 deaths in the United States. From August 30th through October 10th, there were 292 reported swine flu deaths, and another 2,029 deaths that were reported either as influenza or pneumonia - some of those probably werenít swine flu.

According to the World Health Organization, as of October 17th, there have been more than 414,000 laboratory confirmed cases of pandemic influenza H1N1 2009 and nearly 5,000 deaths. Most likely, there have been millions of cases around the world that have gone undiagnosed and unreported.

4. How long does swine flu last?

In general, you feel pretty lousy for three days, and you start to improve over the next few days though you may have a cough which lingers for weeks. If you donít start to feel better after three or four days, you should see a doctor. Another important thing to note is that if you are starting to get better and then take a turn for the worse - meaning you get a high fever - then you need to seek medical care right away because that could mean you have a bacterial infection on top of the flu.

5. What is the swine flu incubation period?

The incubation period is the time from when youíve been infected by the virus to when you start showing symptoms. The usual incubation period with swine flu is one to four days, but it can be up to a week.

6. Is there an increased risk of swine flu for pregnant women?

Pregnant women are at greater risk for swine flu and other respiratory infections for three reasons. During pregnancy, a womanís immune system changes to allow the development of the baby, which can increase the risk of infection. As the pregnancy goes on, the sheer size of the developing fetus can limit a womanís ability to take a deep breath by pushing up on the diaphragm, and taking a deep breath is a defense mechanism that forces things out of our lungs. And, lastly, many pregnant women have other children around the house, which can increase their risk of exposure to germs.

7. Swine flu vs. regular flu: How do they compare?

The big difference between swine flu and the seasonal flu has to do with who is at the greatest risk. Younger people are at greater risk for swine flu because they donít have any underlying immunity or protection. On the other hand, the elderly are at greater risk for seasonal influenza. 90% of people who have been hospitalized for swine flu were under 65 years old. 90% of those who have been hospitalized for seasonal flu were over 65 years old.

8. Is the swine flu vaccine safe; what are the side effects?

This should be a very safe vaccine. It is made the exact same way as seasonal flu vaccines, which are given to over a hundred million people in this country every year. In fact, the swine flu vaccine actually went through additional testing this past spring to determine how many doses people would need, and that provided even more safety information. It is expected to have the exact same safety profile and side effects of the seasonal flu vaccine. The most common side effects of the injectable vaccine are redness, soreness, at the site of injection, and mild fever in the couple of days after the shot. The nasal spray vaccine also can cause a mild fever, and maybe a bit of a sore throat. It is important to remember that neither vaccine is really giving you the flu. Your bodyís reaction to it is part of the way you develop immunity.

9. What are the ingredients in the H1N1 vaccine?

Again, there are two different vaccines. The nasal spray is what is called a "live attenuated vaccine." They take the virus and change it so that it canít cause the flu, but it can infect the cells in your nose and cause an immune reaction. The injectable vaccine has a surface protein in it called hemagglutinin. All vaccines contain trace amounts of ingredients that are used in its manufacturing, as well as stabilizers so that the vaccine remains effective.

Also, if your vaccine comes from a multi-dose vial, it will have a very small amount of a preservative called thimerosol. It is important to remember that both vaccines can have trace amounts of egg protein in them, because the viruses that are used to make the vaccine are grown in eggs. People with egg allergies canít receive either vaccine.

10. Other than taking the vaccine, what swine flu precautions can we take?

Itís important that people donít forget those basic things that our moms taught us. Wash your hands with soap and water. If you donít have soap and water, use a hand sanitizer. Cover your mouth when you cough with your sleeve, not your hands. Stay home when you are sick, and keep your kids home when they are sick so the respiratory infection does not spread. If you are a high-risk individual, talk to your doctor about what you should do if you get sick, so that you have a treatment plan. Those things can be very helpful and provide peace of mind.

Story credit: New York Daily News

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