Video: NBC's Bazell answers your swine flu questions

By Robert Bazell Chief science and health correspondent
NBC News
updated 4/28/2009 4:25:12 PM ET 2009-04-28T20:25:12

As the World Health Organization signaled an increase in the risk of a global epidemic of swine flu, msnbc.com readers expressed worries about travel to Mexico — where the outbreak is most severe — and other dangers from the disease.

NBC Chief Science and Health Correspondent Robert Bazell addresses your questions on swine flu.

What has been the range of time seen between onset of symptoms to death in the people who have died in Mexico? Could we have a breakdown of the ages of the victims? Do we know the incubation period?
Raquel Borland, Oakley, Calif.

That is a critical question about the deaths in Mexico. That’s what investigators from the World Health Organization and the Centers for Disease Control are investigating very actively, because a lot more needs to be understood about the deaths before we can understand the threat. The age of the victims has been reportedly been people in their 20s, 30s and 40s, which is one of the most frightening things about it, because flu usually strikes and kills the very old and frail, and sometimes the very young. In 1918, the ultimate pandemic we know about killed healthy young adults. That’s one of the reasons why this outbreak is potentially frightening. We still have to understand more.

As for the incubation period, from the cases in the United States and even Mexico, the incubation period from the time of exposure to the onset of symptoms seems to be three to four days. They originally thought it was less, but have since determined it is three to four days.

Can preventive doses of Tamiflu help stop the spread and stop people from getting the flu? Can it be spread via our water supply? Are young children (infant-8 yrs. old) protected against this flu, since it seems like young adults are getting it?
—Karen Cosgrove, N.Y.

Preventive doses of Tamiflu can be used when there’s an infected case. It can be given to family members and that has been done. But it’s not something people should do on their own. It’s not advised for the general population at all. The reasons for that is, if a lot of people start taking a drug, it’s very much like antibiotics — a  resistant strain could appear and make the situation far more dangerous than it is.

The biggest use of Tamiflu will be for people who already have symptoms in this country. So far, fortunately, in this country, the symptoms have been relatively mild. Tamiflu and Relenza are the drugs that are known to be effective.

Are we still safe to eat pork products?
—Sarah Lee, Susanville, Calif.

Definitely. It’s called swine flu because it’s always given a name. It has genetic components from pigs as well as human and birds, as most flu viruses do. But this happens to be a virus that infects humans. It is absolutely safe to eat pork products, as long as you cook them well.

Would the swine flu vaccination that many of us had in the 1970's have any protection left?
—Steve Younger, Springfield, Mo.

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No, even though that was also called swine flu. It was an unusual situation that developed in 13 recruits at Fort Dix, N.J. and resulted in one death.

It’s not the same virus so a previous vaccination for that would not help.

We are going to Cabos San Lucas, Mexico in 2 weeks, staying at an all inclusive resort. Should we cancel or keep our reservations?
—Anonymous

I can’t advise you what to do, but the state department is issuing recommendations about this and so is the Centers for Disease Control. I would advise you to read them very carefully and pay attention.

My husband (60) and son (35) just returned from a week long fishing trip off the coast of San Flippi in Baja. Neither has shown any signs for not feeling well. What is the incubation period if they were exposed. We have 8 small grandchildren and I don't want to unknowingly expose any of them.
—Debi Huntamer, El Cajon, Calif.

If they haven’t shown any signs of not feeling well, they should be fine since the incubation period is three to four days. If it's three to four days out, there’s no problem and no reason to think they would have gotten ill.

Let’s not forget, that just because a country is having an outbreak or an infection doesn’t mean everyone in the country is infected or everybody is going to get infected.

Even if you’re in a city where there is a lot of flu, if you are careful about washing your hands and not kissing people and staying away from crowds, it doesn’t mean you are going to get infected.

Still have questions about swine flu? Ask them here .  

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