Q & A

Expert Advice on Swine Flu

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Tuesday, September 1, 2009

In the Health section's special report on swine flu last week, we posed some common questions to Andrew Pekosz, an associate professor of molecular microbiology and immunology at Johns Hopkins University's Bloomberg School of Public Health in Baltimore. As readers submit further questions, he will continue to offer answers.

-- Rachel Saslow

I got a swine flu vaccine in 1976. Am I protected from this strain?

No, you are not. The 1976 and 2009 H1N1 viruses are different, and the immune responses from the 1976 vaccine lasted only about a year.

What is the typical incubation period of swine flu?

This is difficult to estimate, but it appears that it takes one to three days for symptoms to develop after exposure to the virus. Remember that the most important thing is what you do after you feel the first symptoms: Stay home and limit your contact with people, practice good cough and sneeze hygiene (cough or sneeze into disposable tissues or your sleeve) and wash your hands and the surfaces you come in contact with frequently.

When will the vaccine be available?

As of now, it looks as though vaccination for high-risk groups will begin in mid- to late October. Once the high-risk groups have been immunized, vaccination of the general population will begin, most likely in November or early December. Announcements regarding when and where to get the vaccine will be made on a regular basis this fall, so pay close attention to your news sources for updated information.

Will the seasonal flu vaccine help protect me from H1N1?

The seasonal flu vaccine will not provide any significant protection against H1N1. However, we do expect to see some cases of seasonal influenza this year, and many of the high-risk populations for H1N1 vaccination (pregnant women, children, people with underlying medical conditions) as well as people over the age of 65 should get the seasonal vaccine in addition to the H1N1 vaccine.

My child has a severe egg allergy. Can he get the H1N1 vaccine?

All the influenza vaccines that will be administered this year consist of virus components generated from eggs, so if you have an egg allergy, you should not get either the seasonal flu vaccine or the H1N1 vaccine.

I'm 66 and in good health.

Do I need the vaccine, and

when should I get it?

As always, consult with your physician about specific medical advice. I would suggest you should get the seasonal flu vaccine, which is available now, since you are in one of the risk groups for getting severe disease from seasonal flu. Also, get the H1N1 vaccine when it becomes available to your age group, which will not be at the beginning of the vaccination campaign but probably in November or December.


© 2009 The Washington Post Company

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