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FAQs about Seasonal and H1N1 Flu What is flu or influenza Flu is


									FAQ’s about Seasonal and H1N1 Flu
What is flu or influenza? Flu is an illness that is caused by a virus. Each year almost everyone on Earth is exposed, and about a third of us get sick. Most of us fight off a flu virus every year and become immune to that particular strain. But flu keeps coming back because it mutates often. Once most people have become immune to one strain, this virus cannot spread further. Then a mutant offspring, one that is different enough to evade the body’s immune system, dominates the next year's epidemic. And so each year many of us get sick again, but not very sick, because our immunity to past viruses gives us some protection against each new, slightly different virus. Every now and then, however, a flu virus appears which is so different that our immunity to past infections does not help us. This is when a pandemic occurs. I hear people talking about “seasonal” flu and H1N1 flu. Can you explain why these two labels are used and why there are different vaccines for them? Seasonal flu refers to the mutated but not totally different strains of flu to which most people have some immunity. The vaccine for seasonal flu is prepared as a combination of three flu strains that experts think will infect people the next season. Vaccine preparation for the fall season (in Northern Hemisphere) starts almost a year in advance. H1N1 is different; it contains genes from flu viruses that normally circulate in pigs in Europe and Asia, birds and humans. It appears that only older people, over age 65, have some immunity to this virus because they were exposed to flu virus that was similar sometime before 1960. The vaccine for H1N1 was developed on an accelerated basis after the “seasonal” vaccine was already in production. This is the reason why two vaccines - seasonal and H1N1 - are being provided this year and why the priority groups for receiving these vaccines are different. How does flu spread? The flu we are concerned with spreads from person to person. It spreads through coughing or sneezing by people with influenza. Sometimes people may become infected by touching something – such as a surface or object – with flu viruses on it and then touching their mouth or nose. What are the usual symptoms? 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. People infected with the flu, including 2009 H1N1, may have respiratory symptoms without a fever. Severe illnesses and death has occurred as a result of illness associated with this virus. How dangerous is seasonal flu and H1N1 flu? Seasonal flu kills between 50 and 200 people per million of population every year around the globe. The elderly are especially vulnerable to seasonal flu. Flu can kill in several ways. It can destroy your lungs or damage them so much that bacteria invade and finish the job. Your immune response to the virus can trigger a crisis such as a heart attack or even spiral out of control and kill you. Overactive immune response was the cause of death in young, able-bodied people in 1918. Pandemic flu can have a higher fatality rate. For example, in 1918, 98 per cent of all people were exposed

to the virus, about 28 per cent got sick and 3 per cent died, an estimated 50 to 100 million people. Currently, H1N1 virus seems not as dangerous, but it must be recalled that during the initial season of the 1918 pandemic, the virus was not as devastating. We can only hope and pray that the current H1N1 strain does not become nastier and that the vaccination program and other precautions will counter its effects. Can hand washing protect me from the flu? People infected with seasonal and 2009 H1N1 flu shed virus and may be able to infect others from 1 day before getting sick to 5 to 7 days after. Since flu spreads from person to person, hand washing with soap and water and the use of sanitizers when soap and water are not available, proper cough and sneeze etiquette and “social distancing” can reduce the spread of the flu. But these measures don’t guarantee protection. Vaccination substantially reduces the chances of getting the flu and reduces the severity of symptoms. Is the H1N1 vaccine novel and unproven and will it cause dangerous side effects? The H1N1 vaccine was produced by the same tried-and-proven techniques as the seasonal vaccine. Since some of the vaccine production (seasonal and H1N1) relies on eggs, egg allergy can be a concern for some people. This allergy is most prevalent in pre-school children. Overall, for the general population, the benefits of vaccination outweigh the risks of any adverse effects associated with vaccination. Who are the priority groups for receiving vaccine for seasonal flu? According to the CDC, people who should get the seasonal vaccine each year are: 1. Children aged 6 months up to their 19th birthday 2. Pregnant women 3. People 50 years of age and older 4. People of any age with certain chronic medical conditions 5. People who live in nursing homes and other long-term care facilities 6. People who live with or care for those at high risk for complications from flu, including: 1. Health care workers 2. Household contacts of persons at high risk for complications from the flu 3. Household contacts and out of home care givers of children less than 6 months of age (these children are too young to be vaccinated) Who are the priority groups for receiving vaccine for H1N1 flu? There are five groups who will have priority for receiving the vaccine against H1N1: 1. Young people - 6 months to 24 years of age 2. Pregnant females 3. 24-65 year olds with compromising medical conditions 4. Health care workers 5. First responders

This information has been prepared by the Wrentham Board of Health based on information from CDC, DPH and New Scientist.

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