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H1N1 flu questions

KUHF-FM (88.7, Houston) — November 14, 2009

Medical Discovery News online

Since the swine flu first emerged in April, many listeners have asked about the virus and whether it could become a major public health problem.

Today we'll address some of your concerns.

The first question is "The flu shows up every year — so why are we focused on the swine flu in particular?" Since the virus, also known as H1N1, moved from southern Mexico to the U.S., it has quickly spread globally.

And surprisingly, while seasonal flu disappears during the summer, H1N1 has continued to infect people in the US. This persistence through the warm months means a strong emergence in the fall through winter seasons.

So far, that's playing out because the cases are doubling every week.

We saw the same pattern back in 1918 with the devastating Spanish flu. It killed seven hundred thousand in the US and fifty million people world-wide. Health officials don't expect the swine flu to be anywhere near this extreme.

Projections are that one to two million people will die worldwide and seventy thousand in the US. But put in perspective, consider the seasonal flu kills about 40-thousand in the US every year.

Another question is: "who is most at risk?" The H1N1 virus is in every state and the high risk groups are pregnant women followed by young children and adolescents. We're already seeing outbreaks at colleges and universities.

This is in contrast to the seasonal flu which targets the elderly, the very young and those with underlying health problems.

Finally, when will the H1N1 vaccine be available?

Your community may already have it and if you're in a vulnerable group, contact your doctor about getting vaccinated. But know there is a limited number of doses because of a lag time in vaccine production.

Whether enough doses will be available for anyone who wants it remains to be seen.

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