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QUESTIONS AND ANSWERS

Sunday, May 3, 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

If I feel headachy or feverish and am waiting to see my doctor, will aspirin/other NSAIDS do me good or just mask symptoms?

The CDC has posted guidelines on over-the-counter and prescription treatments at http://www.cdc.gov/h1n1flu/guidance_homecare.htm. Aspirin should not be given to children, but Tylenol or Advil can be used to treat flu symptoms.

When people die of influenza, what is it that kills them?

When people die of influenza, it is usually a direct result of damage to the lungs. That damage can be caused by the virus infection itself or it can come from a bacterial infection that starts during the influenza virus infection, something we call a secondary bacterial infection. In many serious influenza virus cases, antibiotics are given to fight this bacterial infection, in addition to antivirals to fight the virus infection.

I saw that the New York schools and some airlines were disinfecting surfaces. I have some cleaning supplies that say the active ingredient is triclosan. Should I stock up on those? What about bleach, or even alcohol wipes?

Any household cleaner that says "antiviral" or "antibacterial" will inactivate viruses. Lysol or diluted bleach solutions work as well. The CDC has some guidelines on this at http://www.cdc.gov/flu/professionals/infectioncontrol/childcaresettings.htm. Remember that the first and most important way to protect yourself from infection is by practicing good hand hygiene (washing hands frequently) and avoiding contact with individuals showing respiratory symptoms.

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