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Dr. Smith's Swine Flu Q and A

By Michael W. Smith, MD

First, let me thank you for all the great questions. I wanted to take the time to answer as many as them as I could. They really are quite insightful.

The Latest on
H1N1 Swine Flu

Anonymous said ...

I believe someone asked how long the virus can live outside the body. For instance, how long is a door knob toxic after someone with the flu sneezes into his/her hand and then touches the door knob?

Dr. Smith: Two hours or longer ... if the surface is wet, then the virus might live a bit longer.

Anonymous said ...

I did have the flu/cold but more flu like. Start to finish over three weeks, still a bit of cough left. Question is How would one know if it was swine flu? Is one a carrier? Should one be tested? And finally can one get it again? Traveled=Yes. sick = one week after traveling. Down Four days before feeling better. Southern climate, Caribbean, tropics.

Dr. Smith: The only way to know if you have the swine flu is to get tested ... it's a swab. But there's no reason for you to be tested because you are no longer contagious from whatever you had. Good news for anyone that does get the swine flu is that they're now likely immune to that particular strain of the virus.

Anonymous said ...

Would you suggest the wearing of a mask? I heard that the germ was so small that it could penetrate through a mask.

Dr. Smith: See my previous post on if you should wear a mask. But to your point, it's not true that a mask wouldn't help. But it's not likely necessary.

Anonymous said ...

Once a person recovers from a flu-like illness, is here any way to tell if it was swine flue? I was in Mexico and many people were complaining of a very bad flu, head ache, muscle pain and a cough that persisted. Could they have had swine flu?

Dr. Smith: Once you've recovered, there really is no reason to know if you had the swine flu. The symptoms you describe are certainly consistently with the swine flu but after 7 days, if you're still not sick, then you have nothing to worry about.

Anonymous said ...

I'm worried because my Tamiflu packet is 5 years old and we can't get any here so the local hospitals will depend on the stockpiled antivirals. How old are the U.S. Tamiflu and Relenza stocks (or what is their age range)? Tamiflu prescriptions give a 2-year expiration date; is any of the stockpile Tamiflu older than this? And have Tamiflu or Relenza efficacity beyond their expiration dates (and to what degree)?

Dr. Smith: The expiration on your Tamiflu is going to depend on when it was manufactured. But if it was at least 5 years ago, there is certainly the chance that it might have lost some of its effectiveness. I don't know how old the Tamiflu or Relenza is in the government's stockpile but I can assure you that they're tracking expiration dates so they don't send out old medication.

Anonymous said ...

My son is 6 months with a cough, but no other symptoms like the swine flu and no fever. My 2 year old has a runny nose with a cough and no fever. I have a cough, stuffy nose, and lost my voice with no cough. Should we all get looked at for the swine flu?

Dr. Smith: At this point, none of you have symptoms consistent with the swine flu, so sounds like you have nothing to worry about.

Anonymous said ...

My 6 month old son has a cough, my 2 year old has a cough and runny nose, I have a cough, stuffy nose, and lost my voice. Our symptoms began on Sunday and no one has had any fever. Should we get looked at for the swine flu?

Dr. Smith: Same as above ... your symptoms are not consistent with the swine flu. Check out our Swine Flu FAQ to learn all about swine flu symptoms and more.

Anonymous said ...

Donna: My sister is leaving tomorrow for a Mexican vacation ...Our entire family has tried to talk her out of doing this ... with no luck. Dr. Smith, do you think this is as dangerous to her health as we do? Yes, she has read the information and says she has as much chance of contracting this flu here in the United States as she would in Mexico. Your response would be much appreciated. Thank you.

Dr. Smith: There's certainly a risk and that's why the gov't has recommended against unessential travel. If she decides to go, keep in mind that the overwhelming majority of people who get the swine flu are recovering just fine. Thankfully, serious illness and deaths are very rare. We're still holding at 1 death in the U.S. At a minimum, your sister should call her doctor to see about getting antiviral medications, particularly if she has any other health conditions.

Anonymous said ...

I have a bad cough, and for the last 4 days I have woken up with numbness in my hands. I dont feel anything for at least an hour. Are these symptoms of the swine flu?

Dr. Smith: Numbness is not a symptom of swine flu. I would suggest getting this checked out to see what might be going on.

Lesley said ...

I am planning a trip to Canada in July. Since we do not know what the situation will be, and because it is not always easy to get to a doctor while travelling, a doctor in Europe suggested it might be a good idea to buy one of the two antiviral drugs to keep at hand. It might be in short supply if things get bad. If I don't get the flu and have to throw the things out when they expire, well put it down to very good luck. What do you think?

Dr. Smith: That's really a question you need to pose to your doctor. For some people it's warranted to take antiviral medications if they're exposed to the swine flu. But you have to figure out what's right for you with your doctor. See my post on Swine Flu; Who's Most at Risk?

Mary said...

I am a 55-year-old female with RA. I am due to take an immunosuppressant (Rituxan) via I.V. on May 8th. Should I do this treatment or look for something else? I am due to travel to New Mexico then 3rd week in May.

Dr. Smith: You need to address this with your doctor. If you have severe RA, which I assume you likely do if you're taking Rituxan, then that treatment is vitally important to help prevent flares and possible disability down the road. You should talk to your doctor about whether you should have antiviral medications on hand.

Steve said...

If the W.H.O. has raised the pandemic level to Level 5, why are they not making the vaccines available right now at Dr.'s offices and clinics before we all get the flu and it's too late for a vaccine?

Dr. Smith: Because there is no swine flu vaccine unfortunately. It takes quite a bit of time to create a flu vaccine. As of yesterday, the CDC was saying that it might be available in September. Let's hope it's not needed by then but time will tell. They may decide to include it as one of the strains in this year's flu vaccine, which we typically start getting in November or so.

Anonymous said ...

If I am scheduled for surgery (not an emergency) over the summer and a pandemic is declared, should I postpone the surgery (since hospitals won't be the safest place to be during the pandemic?

Dr. Smith: I can't accurately answer this question because I don't know nearly enough about your medical history or the surgery. You need to address this issue with your doctor.

Anonymous said ...

How long do these types of things usually last is this the beginning of a year long or a month long or how long of an ordeal is this? And how is it going to stop. I know for the regular flu there is a "flu season" but we are well past that. And we know everyone is not going to follow the standards of staying home if they are sick.

Dr. Smith: Unfortunately, there is no "usual" when it comes to these things. They're all different. Let's hope with the upcoming summer (a time during which the flu is very unusual) and our vigilant efforts to prevent swine flu (you are being vigilant about washing your hands, right), that this outbreak will pass quickly. But at this point, we really just don't know.

Robert Oliveira said ...

While the continued spread of Swine Flu (H1N1) is no laughing matter, I strongly believe that someone in an official government capacity needs to reign in the media outlets. At least one FOX affiliate in my part of the U.S. is providing sound bites which will only cause more fear and panic. Right now what we need is well-informed citizens who can take the lead in preventing the spread of the disease and sensational newsreporting isn't going to do it.

Dr. Smith: Robert, you hit the nail on the head about us, American citizens, leading the charge of preventing the spread of swine flu! The government can only do so much and they have admitted that their ability to contain the virus is quite limited. But yours isn't. Take every precaution with frequent handwashing and steer clear of anyone with flu-type symptoms. Keep alcohol-based hand gels or wipes around, particularly if you touch public places, like doorknobs, phones etc.

Anonymous said ...

Since this is a new virus I know it will take time to develop and produce a vaccine. About how long will that probably take? When do you think will get the vaccine?

Dr. Smith: The earliest the CDC says is September. It actually takes months to develop even the annual flu vaccine that we hopefully all get. Maybe this outbreak will cause more people to get next year's flu vaccine since it is the most effective strategy for preventing the flu (that, and handwashing).

Anonymous said ...

I have to fly to care for my parents this weekend. My mom is on remicade (sp?) which compromises her immune system. Should I wear a mask while travelling to prevent contracting the flu and possible passing it to her? I am flying from Dallas to Orlando. I am concerned about the time on the plane in the confined space - especially in light of VP Biden's comments this morning!

Dr. Smith: I completely understand your concern, but let me just put things in perspective. In total, there are just over 100 cases of confirmed swine flu in the U.S and one death. In an average flu season, 200,000 people are hospitalized and 36,000 people die.

Anonymous said ...

Can you provide anymore information on the age demographic that seems to be the most susceptible to this virus?

Dr. Smith: It's honestly a bit early in the outbreak in the U.S. to say for sure. But I suspect this will go the route of most flu viruses in that the very young and the very old are going to be most at risk of severe infections. For other high-risk groups, see my post on Swine Flu: Who's Most at Risk?

Anonymous said ...

Who does the Swine Flu affect? Babies and the elderly? Or can anyone get it? If so, how many schools have closed because of this illness?

Dr. Smith: See my post on Swine Flu: Who's Most at Risk? As far as how many schools have closed, that number is changing all the time so I really couldn't tell you. As far as how many schools have closed, that number is changing all the time so I really couldn't tell you.

Anonymous said ...

I was in Dallas/Ft. Worth from Monday 4/20 to Thursday 4/23. On Friday evening (24th) I started to get a sore throat. Saturday it got worse and I started having joint and muscle pain along with a "vice" like headache(is persistent to this day). Felt ill all weekend long, went to the Dr. on Monday ... gave me a rapid strep test and pain relief for headache and sent me home. Dr. called Tuesday evening to see how I was, and I was actually starting to feel better. Now it is Thursday and my chest has become very heavy and I have a productive, yucky cough (and, still the headache. I have been working from home all week, which I feel so fortunate I can do that. Am a bit concerned it may be swine...now today, 16 yr old daughter has a bad sore throat ... kept her home from school. I am feeling confused as to what I should do!

Dr. Smith: If you're confused, I'd suggest calling your doctor. A cold or strep throat is much more common than swine flu. It's important to get strep throat treated too, so that might be a reason to get your daughter into see the doctor if you think that's a possibility.

Paul E said ...

What are the similarities/differences if any between the Swine Flu 2009 type H1N1 and the Spanish Flu of 1918 type H1N1?

Dr. Smith: Well, the viruses are different -- we know that at least. But unfortunately we don't know much more at this point. In 1918, the flu started out as mild and only later became very serious and widespread. Let's hope that today, our containment and flu prevention strategies that I hope everyone is being very vigilant about will help prevent this swine flu outbreak from going that same route.

Thanks for all the great questions and hopefully the information will help keep you calm during these uncertain times.

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