Saturday, May 2, 2009

Andrew Pekosz, associate professor of molecular microbiology and immunology at the Johns Hopkins Bloomberg School of Public Health in Baltimore, answers questions about swine flu.

-- Shankar Vedantam

Is there any way to tell whether swine flu is going to kill more infected people than the garden-variety flu?

Right now, the swine flu does not appear to cause significantly more deaths than seasonal flu, but this is being closely monitored by public health authorities.

If the WHO does raise the threat level for swine flu -- or H1N1 Influenza A -- to a pandemic, does that mean very large numbers of people are going to fall sick and die?

Raising the pandemic threat level is meant to signal public health agencies that a pandemic is occurring and they should initiate their pandemic preparedness plans. It is not meant to predict how many people will get sick or how sick they will be; rather, it is to signal governments to start aggressive preparations to deal with a pandemic.

Should I avoid swimming pools in Mexico? (I am supposed to be there in two weeks.) Should I avoid swimming pools here in the D.C. metropolitan area? What about ocean swimming in Mexico?

If there are a large number of cases of swine flu in an area, one should avoid swimming pools, because they represent places where lots of people gather, and spread of the virus from person to person is therefore more likely. This would apply to Mexico but not to the D.C. metropolitan area.

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