Video: Sweating the swine flu, part two

By Robert Bazell Chief science and health correspondent
NBC News
updated 10/26/2009 5:36:45 PM ET 2009-10-26T21:36:45

With swine flu expected to flare up this fall, msnbc.com readers are asking questions and voicing concerns over the virus. NBC's Chief Science and Health Correspondent Robert Bazell provides some answers.


How effective is the shot?  Will it keep us totally immune?
Michelle Hollings, Coral Springs,FL

In the initial testing, the vaccine elicited an immune response in more than 90 per cent of the volunteers under 65. And because it closely matches the virus it should provide good protection for most people.  No flu vaccine ever provides 100 percent protection, but this one should be very good

I am alergic to chicken feathers.  As a child, I was alergic to eggs.  Doctors have refused to give the flu vaccine to me because of these allergies.  Will I be allowed to take the swine flu vaccine?
Sharon Mondrala

All the vaccines are made from eggs, so you will not be able to take the swine flu vaccine either.

With the concern over students getting the swine flu, shouldn't teachers be on the initial list for the vaccine?
Debbie Faust, LA

Teachers are not on the official priority list, but I doubt if any provider would deny vaccine to teachers who clearly are at risk of exposure from students.

Why does your newscast continue to refer to this disease as "swine flu"?  I'm certain that both Brian and Bob are aware of the damage this is doing to the pork industry.  I'm not even associated with the pork industry and I find your use of the term embarrassing for you after the common knowledge of what you are doing to innocent pork producers.  Please use "H1N1."
Ron Bergfeld, Clive, IA

We use “swine flu,” as do many other media, because that is the term that has precise meaning to scientists.  One of the seasonal flu strains is a different H1N1.  We have emphasized repeatedly that there is no risk of catching flu from pork products.

It sure seems like the media is blowing this way out of proportion.  So far the death toll is much smaller than regular flu. Why such a big deal? And do you remember the days when no one got a flu shot?
Bryan Skillestad, Cannon Falls, MN

It is important to note–as we have all along–that most cases are moderate or mild.  This swine flu is important because it is a new viral strain, and large segments of the population have no immunity, so it has the potential to infect very large numbers of people. There were days when people got no vaccinations against many diseases, but because of the vaccinations, many public health problems no longer exist.

Is there a Thimerisol-free version of the flu shot available to adults? I am an adult healthcare worker who is allergic to Thimerisol. I have been told by some doctors and pharmacists that there is a Thimerisol-free flu shot, but it is made for pediatric patients only. My personal physician is reluctant to give me a flu shot with Thimerisol in it because of my allergy. Since I work in a healthcare setting and I take care of my elderly parents in my home, I need to be vaccinated against the flu. Where can I get a Thimerisol-free vaccine?
Anonymous, Vermont

You have to ask your doctor if you can get it.   Most of the flu vaccine does have the mercury preservative.

I have to admit, I am terrified of the H1N1 flu.  I have three small boys; ages five, three and two.  I am terrified they will contract this virus and there is nothing I can do about it.  I read the virus "may" kill up to 90,000 people, and young children and adults are most at risk.  I am so confused as to if I should risk the vaccination on my children or risk swine flu?  I just don't know.  I am sick to my stomach with worry after seeing and hearing news reports.
Wendy Tessier, Fairview, IL

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Panic cannot help.  The thing to remember is that most people get moderate or mild illness.  Make sure your children wash their hands as often as possible and if they seem to get very ill take them to  the doctor.

Why do they think there will be a pandemic as in 1918? Over 90 percent of the homes and business did not have indoor plumbing then, and we live a much healthier life style now. Our water is a 100 percent better than in 1918. We just brought home over 1 million service men from WW1.
Paul Schnatz

No one is predicting a pandemic as severe as 1918.  A pandemic is defined as occurring when an entirely new strain of influenza is transmitted around the world.  This happened in 1957 and 1968. 

My 10-year-old son has allergies to egg and also has asthma.  Can you tell me if egg is involved in the manufacture of the swine flu shot (as with most other flu shots)?  
Elaine Ferrara, Hillsborough, New Jersey

Eggs are used in the manufacture and officials recommend against people with egg allergies getting the vaccine.

Why does Brian Williams insist on referring to H1N1 as Swine Flu?  Even the local stations have been able to shift to H1N1.  Seems arrogant when it has been publicized that the name swine flu has such negative effects on the pork industry.  
Seldra Funk Timonium, Maryland

We have repeatedly said that eating pork does not cause the flu.  Many scientists still refer to the virus as swine flu because that is in fact the best description.

I'm 73 and my only problem is high BP although I'm taking meds for it.  Should I get A Swine Flu shot? Also, what about smokers in the family-- age 48?
Edie Anderson, Naugatuck, Ct.

The new virus tends to strike younger people –there is no firm guideline but people born before 1957 seem to have the most protection.

I received a swine flu shot when I was in the U.S. Navy in 1976. Do I need to get another one?
Ward Ferbert, Gurnee, IL

Yes, those are two different viruses

Why are people over 65 bottom of the list for getting Swine Flu vaccinations?  Older people don't fight infections off as easily as young people and I am very concerned about this.
Leslie Edwards, Chicago, IL

Older people seem to be protected against the current swine flu.  The best guess is that the new virus is similar to a virus that was common before 1957

I am 75 and i have emphysema  will I be able to have the h1n1 vaccine because I am old. I am at risk for lung infection.
John A Brown Sr.

You probably will be able to get it. Because eventually there should be plenty to go around.

Why are seniors with health concerns (COPD, cardiovascular disease, diabetes, etc.) not listed for those to be given swine flu shots? It sounds like we're "expendable."
Walt Vickers 

No one is saying not to get it, it is just that this virus strikes mostly younger people so they seem to be the most at risk.

My three-year-old has chronic asthma if he receives the vaccination is he still at risk to get H1N1?
Miriam Rodriguez, New Britain, CT

When a vaccine is available, it should provide protection

If you get the H1N1, does that now mean you are immune from getting it again? If so, do new and different strains make you again susceptible?
Paul Gerrish

If you get one strain of flu you are immune from getting  it again.  The problem is that influenza viruses mutate so quickly that you can be exposed to a different strain.  That is why there is a new flu vaccine every year.  Swine flu is special because it is so different from previous strains that few people –especially younger people—have any immunity at all.

It looks like the reporting of the new health care system not looking out for the those over 64 is true. I have seen numerous posting of who is at risk and who should get the flu shots and they stop at the age of 64.There is no mention of those of us over 64. We used to be in the  group that needs the shot the most.
Dan Bingel, Taylors, SC

Again, the swine flu virus strikes mostly younger people.  It can get confusing because older people should be the first to get the vaccine  against the seasonal flu, but it is not so urgent they get the swine flu shot.

Are people with transplants at a higher risk for swine flu, and if so, will the vaccine coming out in the fall be a live or dead vaccine?
Michelle Vieu, Westfield, MA

People with transplants can be more susceptible.   The vaccines that will be available for the new flu  shots include both a killed virus (the shots) and a live attenuated virus (the nasal spray)  approved for people 2 to 49 years old in good health.

How is the swine flu diagnosed? What are the symptoms and how are they different from regular flu?
Mae Sims, Conyers, Georgia

The symptoms are the same as seasonal flu.  It can only be diagnosed with a complex laboratory test available at state health departments and the CDC.

My wife and I travel to New Zealand from December through March to be with our family there. I understand it is a different strain there. We plan to take a high immunity med, with high vitamins and minerals while traveling. Should we get a shot here or there?
Warren Poehler, Bristol, RI

The strain is the same throughout the world – at least for now.

Hello, I worked at a State Correctional Center in Louisiana and I wonder how quick Correctional Officers are going to get the H1N1 shots.
Gerry Williams, DeRidder, Louisiana

People who work in institutions such as prisons should be near the top of the list to get vaccine when it becomes available.

Can someone who is having chemo and radiation take the flu shot?
Jow Walkes, Cherry Hill, NJ

Yes.

Could you tell me why teachers of young children (5-12) are not being considered candidates for the Swine Flu vaccination? 
Jane, New York

If they aren’t they certainly should be.

When are we going to be able to get the vaccine? Will it be a one shot or a combination cocktail?
Sandy Blackwell

It will probably be two shots a few weeks apart but that is yet to be determined.

I had a swine flu shot in 1976.  Does that provide any protection today against H1N1?
Jane G., Los Angeles, CA

No.

Is the swine flu vaccine safe? Is it as safe as getting a regular seasonal flu shot? I'm somewhat concerned because the swine flu is so new and the shot is only being tested in a handful of clinics. Is this more or less testing than the seasonal flu shot receives each year? I worry that the CDC is rushing the vaccine to get it out.
— Anonymous

The federal government is "fast tracking" the vaccine because many experts consider the virus to be a serious threat.  Officials say they believe it will be so similar to the vaccine for seasonal flu that it should be safe.  But they have put in place a very extensive monitoring system to look for any complications that may arise.

I thought I heard you say people who had the flu shot in 1979 are protected from the current swine flu. Is this correct?
— Anonymous

In 1976 there was an extensive vaccination campaign against an outbreak of a different strain of swine flu which occurred among army recruits at Fort Dix, New Jersey but never spread further.  Some scientists believe that vaccine could provide some protection against the current swine flu outbreak but it is by no means certain.

I have an egg allergy so I don't normally get the regular flu vaccine, will I be able to get the swine flu vaccine or does it also contain a component of egg? If it does, can I get it anyway and just be monitored for any allergy reaction? I am a healthy 30-year-old with mild asthma. I'm pregnant and due in late November, which puts me in the high risk category.
— Anonymous

All the vaccines are indeed made with eggs.  Because of your pregnancy you should check with your doctor.  Allergists can sometimes determine if a person's egg allergy is severe enough to recommend against vaccination.  But generally the advice is that those with egg allergies not get the vaccine.

I have a newborn baby who is too young for the vaccine - what steps can i take to protect him? Even if I was to get my children vaccinated for the swine flu, couldn’t they still carry the germs home with them?
— Anonymous

Before a vaccine is available you need to take the standard precautions of hand washing and covering coughs and keeping sick people away from the child.  After a vaccine is available, everyone who comes in contact with the child should be vaccinated.

If you've already had the swine flu this year, should you get vaccinated? Can you get it again?
— Anonymous

You probably can't get it again if you really had this strain of flu.  But most people who got sick while there was swine flu around did not get tested so unless you are certain and you want to avoid infection, you should get the vaccine when it is available.

I am 5 1/2 months pregnant.  My next doctor appointment is in 2 weeks.  Can I wait until then to get a shot or should I get one immediately?  Also, if i were to get the flu while pregnant, what would the specific risks be to my baby?  Could the baby get the flu while in utero?  This whole thing has me scared and concerned.
— Anonymous

Your concern is understandable.  While the absolute numbers of pregnant women who have gotten serious side effects is small, pregnant women are definitely at higher risk for complications. The concern is not for the baby in utero. There is no vaccine now, so if you develop a fever or other possible flu symptoms you should seek medical help immediately.  When the vaccine becomes available which is estimated to be mid-October, pregnant women should be among the first to get it.

I have a 2-yr-old in daycare and a 7-yr-old in second grade.  I don't want to wait for the swine flu vaccine.  If they get regular flu shots, will that prevent them from getting h1n1?
— Anonymous

Seasonal flu shots will not protect against the swine flu.  But for several years the government has advised that children get seasonal flu vaccine (which can be shots or the flu mist nasal spray) And it is not a bad idea to get both vaccines.

If an employee contracts the h1n1 virus and notifies his/her employer, what is the company's responsibility?
— Anonymous

This is a very important question.  Under the law employers in most locales have no responsibility.  But federal and state health officials have repeatedly asked that employers be understanding if their employees develop an infection that could be the new virus.  Allowing a person who is sick or who has sick children  to stay home without risking job loss will protect the other employees in the company and makes for compassionate, good sense.

What is the current state of the h1n1 vaccine testing?
— Anonymous

The vaccine has been given to hundreds of adult and child volunteers.  Doctors will monitor them for several weeks to see whether they develop antibodies and other indications of immunity.  If the testing goes well, the first lots of vaccine should be available in mid October.

I have never had the flu and have never had a flu shot. I am 61 and have Grave's disease. Am I more at risk now because of the Grave's disease? I am very reluctant to get a flu shot, but should I change my mind about that?
— Anonymous

This is a discussion for you and your doctor. But the new virus tends not to strike people your age.  Kidney problems can elevate the risk for complications in people who do get infected.

If this is a new virus none of us have been exposed to, why are there just small pockets of infection, seemingly, even within the same family...all family members aren't getting the virus...or they are, but we are we just are not hearing that on the news? Also, it is transmitted by a sneeze or cough the same as a cold, correct? So hand
washing is not the be-all-end-all answer.  Also correct?
— Anonymous

Every disease in history has struck some people and spared others.  Scientists do not understand why.  The most recent evidence suggests that the new virus spreads more readily from touch than through the air, like seasonal influenza and the common cold. Hand washing is not the entire answer but it is a very effective way to reduce risk.

Which states are most prone to the swine flu? Are there enough school nurses? Are hospitals ready for the pandemic?
— Anonymous

No state is more prone. Flu strikes unpredictably. In many places, there are not enough school nurses and hospitals should have undergone extensive preparations.

My 5-year-old daughter tends to pick up every cold and virus that's circulating throughout the year. My question: What can I give her, as far as supplements, that can help boost her immune system in the event of a swine flu outbreak in her school?
— Anonymous

Other than a normal healthy diet, there are no known supplements to reduce the risk of infection.

I am 29 years old and considering getting pregnant this fall. I have had two normal pregnancies and healthy babies in the past. I, myself, am what I would consider healthy. But I am very concerned about my risk of getting swine flu when I am pregnant. What really are the risks to a pregnant woman? Should I consider not getting pregnant? I am very confused about how seriously the swine flu can affect a pregnant woman.
— Amanda

Health officials have said that the risk to pregnant women is so low that it should not be considered a factor in a woman's decision to get pregnant.

Can the government make the vaccine mandatory? Are there plans for this? I do not want the vaccine.
— Anonymous

The government has repeatedly said vaccinations will never be mandatory

With the H1N1 vaccine having been "fast tracked," what assurances do we have that this swine flu vaccine will not have awful side effects?
— Anonymous

While there are no assurances, officials say the vaccine is so similar to seasonal vaccine that it should cause no problems, but they will be monitoring it very closely as more and more people get vaccinated.

We plan on traveling to Mexico in November for our honeymoon. Do you think we will be affected by the swine flu? If we changed our plans to go somewhere in the Caribbean, would that be a safer bet?
— Anonymous

Mexico is no longer a particular threat. The virus is now all over the world. Congratulations and enjoy your honeymoon.

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