Public Health

Swine Flu Q&A: Post-Halloween Edition

With Halloween behind us, Daylight Saving Time over and the leaves practically jumping off the trees, it's really starting to feel like... flu season.

Women wearing H1N1 virus and Kleenex costumes get together for Halloween.

hide captionFourth-grade teachers Meg Freund and Judy Fratto get creative for Halloween in Washington, D.C.

Jessica Goldstein/NPR

Fall schmall. The swine flu is hitting early and hard. The CDC says there have been more hospitalizations of people younger than 65 for flu in the last two months than in most entire flu seasons.

The march of the 2009 H1N1 virus across the country is on our mind. And we're not the only ones. On Monday's Morning Edition, NPR's Richard Knox and Joanne Silberner answered listeners' questions and an online piece tackled even more.

Here are a few highlights.

Do flu vaccines really work?
Yup. Among young, healthy people, flu vaccines are 80 percent or more effective against the strains of virus that cause disease. The swine flu vaccine could be even better because the ingredients weren't determined by an educated guess. "The H1N1 vaccine is not only on target, but it's a bull's eye right in middle — this is a maximally effective influenza vaccine," Vanderbilt's Dr. William Schaffner told NPR.

How come all this press coverage is very pro-flu shots, yet all shots carry risks, and this newest shot has barely been tested?
At NPR, we do weigh the risks vs. the benefits of medical treatments and prevention. Sure, no shot is risk-free. But for the new H1N1 flu shot, the risk is very low. Public health officials decided to go with the same production methods as have long been for the regular seasonal flu shot — which has a long track record of safety. If you're a glutton for details about the current crop of vaccines, check out the FDA approval notices here.

With everyone virtually bathing in alcohol-based hand sanitizer, are we going to be talking sanitizer-resistant virus strains 10 years down the road?
Not likely. Alcohol-based hand sanitizers work very well against influenza because they dissolve the virus' outer coat, making it non-infectious, says Dr. Andrew Pekosz, a Johns Hopkins professor who studies viruses. Resistance of influenza to alcohol-based sanitizers is not going to develop like it can in bacteria, he says.

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