Q: What is the difference between H1N1 and seasonal influenza?
A: The seasonal flu consists of several strains. The Type A strains change slightly every year. The population retains some immunity to the strains, thus reducing serious illness. A new strain began in April 2009, which created the H1N1 or “swine” flu. Its newness has resulted in people having less immunity to it. There is no real difference between symptoms, except the H1N1 flu has been known to affect the gastrointestinal system more.
Q: Is H1N1 flu more dangerous than seasonal flu?
A: The H1N1 flu seems to carry the same overall risk of complications and death as seasonal flu. However, far fewer people have immunity to the H1N1 flu.
Q: Why are more young people dying from the H1N1 flu?
A: Older people tend to have more immunity because the H1N1 flu is distantly related to strains that circulated through the pandemic from last century. Younger people have less immunity; therefore, they are more susceptible to this flu, which also allows it to spread more quickly.
Q: Are pregnant women dying in large numbers?
A: Pregnant women are at higher risk of complications. Pregnancy is believed to naturally lower the body’s infection-fighting mechanism in order to protect the fetus. If a pregnant woman gets the flu in the later stages of pregnancy, the developing fetus can push up against the lungs, which may diminish lung capacity. This could cause respiratory complications that could possibly lead to death.
Q: Who else is at high risk?
A: People who are 65 years or older, children younger than 5 years, and people who are very obese (i.e., body mass index greater than 35) are more prone to experience pressure on their lungs. People with asthma and chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD) have diminished lung function and, if using steroid medication, decreased immunity. People with diabetes, heart disease, kidney disease, sickle cell anemia, and pregnant women are at greater risk, as well as those who suffer from immunosuppressive disorders.
Q: Are there other ways to prevent infection rather than receiving a vaccine?
A: Frequent, thorough hand washing and sneezing into your sleeve or tissue helps a lot. Stay home when you’re sick, and keep a distance (3 feet is recommended) from others who seem sick. Eat well, drink lots of fluids, and get adequate sleep to help boost your immune system. Avoid touching your eyes, nose, or mouth where germs can easily enter the body. Vaccines are like seats belts, they have saved millions of lives.
Q: How is the flu shot different from nasal spray vaccination?
A: The injectable vaccine is made from dead influenza virus. This form of the vaccine provokes the immune system to respond. The nasal spray, Flu Mist®, is made from a weakened form of live virus. It can reproduce in the cool nasal passages, stimulating an immune response; however, it cannot survive to cause illness in the warmer respiratory tract.
Q: How does one choose whether to receive the vaccine or Flu Mist?
A: Flu Mist is more available but only approved for healthy, non-pregnant people between the ages of 2 and 49 years old. The vaccine shot can be given to anyone over 6 months old.
Q: Can the vaccine cause the flu?
A: It is almost impossible to contract the flu from the vaccine. However, the nasal spray can cause side effects, such as runny nose, headache, sore throat, and low-grade fever. Also, one can get the flu just before or after receiving the vaccine due to misfortune.
Q: Does the vaccine prevent all cases of the H1N1 flu?
A: No. Both flu vaccines (H1N1 and seasonal) protect against moderate to severe disease by decreasing the virus from spreading. The H1N1 flu nasal spray might help prevent milder cases of the H1N1 flu.
Q: How quickly does the vaccine become effective?
A: An immune response is detectable in 3 to 5 days and peaks between 7 to 10 days.
Q: The H1N1 flu vaccine is so new, how can people know it’s safe?
A: The only new element is the strain of virus used to make it. That happens every year with the seasonal flu vaccine.
Q: Can one receive the seasonal and H1N1 flu vaccines at once?
A: Yes. Both vaccines can be given simultaneously, or one shot and one nasal spray of either type. Two nasal sprays must be separated by nearly a month.
Q: When sick, how can one determine if medical help is needed?
A: If an underlying medical condition is present and you suspect you’ve contracted the flu, it is important to see a doctor. If breathing is difficult, or a child is having difficulty waking up or is turning blue/gray, seek medical assistance immediately.
Please feel free to approach the Center’s nursing staff with any additional questions or concerns you may have. We are available to help you maintain your best health year round.
Source: The Times (Trenton), “Health & Fitness and Science” section (B6), October 26, 2009; written by Don Sapatkin, Mcclatchy News Services; reported by Margery A. Cottrell, RN.