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October 21, 2009 > H1N1 - Fact vs. Fiction

H1N1 - Fact vs. Fiction

Flu season is here, and this year it's been complicated by a new threat - the H1N1 influenza virus, sometimes called swine flu.

"Our major concern about the H1N1 strain of influenza virus is that there is no pre-existing immunity to it in the community," says Dianne Martin, MD, internal medicine and infectious disease specialist on the medical staff at Washington Hospital. "At Washington Hospital, we're being very cautious and want to be fully prepared in the event of an epidemic. So far, the outbreak is milder than expected, but it is too early to tell the full story."

It you're trying to learn more about H1N1, there's plenty of information -
and misinformation - available about this new strain of flu. What's important is to separate fact from fiction and find out what you can do to help protect yourself and your family.

FACT: A vaccine to help prevent H1N1 flu has been developed. The U.S. government has purchased 250 million doses of the vaccine and began distributing it earlier this month.

FACT: Certain groups of people should get the vaccine because they are more likely to suffer complications if they get the flu. If you or your child is in one of these groups, you should get vaccinated when the vaccine becomes available. The target groups are different from the high-risk groups for the seasonal flu:
* Pregnant women
* Household members and caregivers for children younger than 6 months old
* Health care and emergency medical services personnel
* Children and adults from 6 months to 24 years old
* People age 25 to 64 with medical conditions associated with a higher risk of flu complications, such as asthma and diabetes

FICTION: The H1N1 flu vaccine is unsafe. It is expected that the 2009 H1N1 flu vaccine will have a similar safety profile to seasonal flu vaccines, which have a very good track record and have been given safely to hundreds of millions of Americans over the years.

"Some people are worried that there will be side effects from the H1N1 vaccine, but it has been appropriately tested and is looking very safe so far," states Dr. Martin. "This vaccine is made from a single strain of flu virus that is closely related to one of the three viruses in the seasonal flu vaccine."

FICTION: The H1N1 flu vaccine contains thimerosal as a preservative, which is not recommended for children, pregnant women and others who take the vaccine. The H1N1 vaccine comes in three options. One is preservative-free and comes in prefilled syringes for children ages 6 months to 35 months and for pregnant women. The second option includes a preservative and is intended for all people age 3 years and older. It is especially good for people whose immune systems are compromised. The third option is a live virus nasal spray for healthy people age 4 years to 45 years. The nasal spray does not contain a preservative.

The Centers for Disease Control, the Food and Drug Administration and the National Institutes of Health, all leading federal agencies, have reviewed the research on the preservative thimerosal and found it to be a safe product for use in vaccines. In addition, three independent organizations (The National Academy of Sciences' Institute of Medicine, the Advisory Committee on Immunization Practices and the American Academy of Pediatrics have also reviewed the research and found thimerosal to be a safe product to use in vaccines. The scientific community supports the use of thimerosal in influenza vaccines.

FACT: One of the best ways to prevent the flu from spreading is to stay home when you or your child is sick. Be ready in case the flu strikes. Stock up on a three-day supply of items to help you get through the flu so you won't have to run out to the store: Chicken noodle or other types of soup, liquids to help keep you hydrated, tissues, and over-the-counter medications to help relieve pain, reduce fever and treat coughs and other symptoms of the flu.

FICTION: If you get the H1N1 vaccine you don't need to get a seasonal flu shot. People who get the H1N1 flu vaccine also need to have the seasonal flu vaccine.

The Centers for Disease Control reports that both vaccines can be given on the same day, but at different sites of your body, such as one in each arm. However, if you are getting spray vaccines for each type of flu, you should not get them at the same time. Administration of the spray vaccines should be separated by three to four weeks. A vaccine shot for one type of flu and a vaccine spray for the other can be taken at the same time.

FICTION: People can catch H1N1 (sometimes called swine) flu from eating or preparing pork. No, the H1N1 influenza virus is not transmitted by food. You cannot get H1N1 flu from eating properly prepared pork or pork products.

FACT: Another critically important way to prevent the spread of flu is to wash your hands frequently with warm soap and water or alcohol-based hand sanitizer. When you sneeze, sneeze into the bend of your arm - not your hand. Also, whenever possible, avoid touching your nose and mouth. Teach your children these same hygiene habits.

For more information about H1N1 flu, visit Washington Hospital's web site at or go to

H1N1 Vaccine Update

Due to the limited amount in this batch, the doses are being reserved primarily for children. Parents should call their pediatrician or family practitioner for availability.

As more of the vaccine is released by the U.S. government, physician offices and hospitals have been receiving flu mist throughout the month of October. H1N1 vaccine in shot form should be delivered by the end of the month. Availability of these shots will also be limited to high risk individuals. The H1N1 vaccine may be available for the general public in December.

To find out more information about H1N1 vaccine availability and other facts about H1N1 flu and how to help prevent it, please visit the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) web site at or the Alameda County Department of Public Health's web site at

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