Swine Flu: Questions and Answers

The flu, generally, is a much more serious illness than most people appreciate. Even a "typical" flu season results in 36,000 American deaths each year, according to statistics from the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

The situation with swine flu is rapidly evolving, but here are some answers to questions on the top issues. Get the latest from the CDC here: http://www.cdc.gov/swineflu/

When will we have a swine flu vaccine?

To create a swine flu vaccine, the CDC together with the FDA and the NIH are working now to first make a "reference stock" of the swine flu virus. This is being done in fertilized hen cell eggs.

FDA officials have told ABC's Lisa Stark that this work began on April 24 and is taking place at a Level 3 biosafety lab at NIH. It will take a few weeks to develop this "reference stock" and the virus will then go to manufacturers to try to make a vaccine. Although the egg-based method has produced safe and effective vaccines, some analysts have said that experimental "cell-culture" based methods could cut production times.

The World Health Organization estimated that a vaccine would be available in five to six months.

John Barry, author of The Great Influenza, and distinguished visiting scholar at the Center for Bioenvironmental Research of Tulane and Xavier Universities, said that "in the best case scenario, a vaccine will be available in four months."

Should I be taking an antiviral medication such as Tamiflu or Relenza to reduce my risk for swine flu?

Infectious disease experts agree that general public should not be taking antiviral medications for protection against swine flu. The cases outside of Mexico have all been mild so far and the virus does not seem to be spreading among communities at this time. Health officials want to control use of the limited stockpiles of antiviral medications available. Broad use of the drugs also increases the odds that the swine flu virus will become resistant, and then the medications would be useless for all.

Do not take antiviral medications without consulting a physician. People who likely should be taking antiviral medications in consultation with a physician: those who are sick with the flu; those who are high risk because they have had direct contact with people who are sick; and those with compromised immune systems who are likely to have contact with the virus.

Antiviral medications such as Tamiflu and Relenza work by slowing the reproduction of the flu virus inside the body. If taken within the first 48 hours after flu symptoms start, these drugs can shorten the amount of time a person is sick by one to one-and-a-half days.

I had a flu shot this year. Will that vaccine protect me from the swine flu?

Highly unlikely. So far it appears as though the seasonal flu shot from the 2008 to 2009 flu season will not offer any protection from the swine flu virus. This is because the swine flu virus is too different from the virus strains contained within the vaccine. It is possible that health officials will decide to include the swine flu virus in next year's vaccine or design a separate swine flu vaccine. Only a vaccine that specifically included the swine flu virus would be expected to offer protection from the swine flu.

What is the difference between an epidemic and a pandemic?

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