RENEE MONTAGNE, host:
This is MORNING EDITION from NPR News. I'm Renee Montagne.
STEVE INSKEEP, host:
And I'm Steve Inskeep. Good morning.
As the swine flu spreads, so do the questions about it, as well as rumors. Many of you are emailing questions to us and our own reporters are hearing more questions in the field, especially from parents, pregnant women, people with other health problems. In other words, the people most at risk. And today in Your Health, we're going to answer some of those questions with our health correspondents, starting with NPR's Richard Knox, who's in Boston.
RICHARD KNOX: Hi, Steve.
INSKEEP: Understand you've been spending some time at a pediatrician's clinic.
KNOX: Yeah, I went out to Needham, Massachusetts. It's a Boston suburb. And I hung out for a while at the offices of Dr. David Greenes(ph) and his partners. It's a real busy place right now. The receptionists say that a lot of people get really mad; some of them even lose it, because they just can't get the vaccine.
This is Marilyn Hapenny(ph).
Ms. MARILYN HAPENNY: Some people have even apologized for being so nasty to us, but, oh boy, I mean, the three of us went home last week and cried. Truly. Just being beat up all day long.
KNOX: Meanwhile, people are getting sick at a greater and greater pace. Several nurses are taking calls from parents of sick kids.
This is nurse Nancy Cleg(ph), and she's talking to a mom with a 2-year-old sick boy.
Ms. NANCY CLEG: Well, you know, it could be the flu. It could be, you know, a virus. You know, we're not testing specifically for H1N1.
KNOX: The pediatrician here (unintelligible), Dr. David Greenes, says that nine out of 10 parents who come in have flu questions no matter what they came in for.
Dr. DAVID GREENES (Pediatrician): Probably, the biggest questions we get are, number one, people want to know how will they recognize if their child has the flu.
INSKEEP: Which is a natural question because the symptoms could be similar for swine flu, regular flu or just a cold, I suppose.
KNOX: That's right. You'd think doctors would know what flu, but it's really not very easy to tell. The flu has certain hallmarks. One is a really ache all over feeling. It really knocks you out. And that's an effect that a cold might not have. And in terms of treatment, well, the good old-fashioned things are usually just fine. It's fluids, bed rest. But that advice isn't enough for some of Dr. Greenes' patients. Let's listen.
Dr. GREENES: Some people have asked me really with sincerity, what can I do so my child won't die if my child gets the flu?
INSKEEP: Terrifying question but a fair one. People have died.
KNOX: That's right, Steve. And so far, almost 120 children and teenagers have died around the country from this flu, and that's way ahead of most flu seasons. The most important thing that parents can do, Dr. Greenes tells them, is be vigilant. Few kids get into trouble, but it does happen. And even with healthy kids, it happens. And it can happen fast.
So they need to be aware of some danger signs. Trouble breathing is one of them, if a kid is hard to wake up, if she's lethargic, if there's persistent fever. A really important one is if the lips are bluish or grayish.
Greenes says basically, though, that parents should trust their intuition. They know their kids best. Call them if they're worried.
INSKEEP: And what else did you hear of the people who had brought their children into that doctor's waiting room?
KNOX: Well, I talked with one fellow named Jim Wilson(ph). He's a real estate man. And he says the whole family, the whole Wilson family, is just getting over the flu. And he wishes that he'd known one thing earlier.
Mr. JIM WILSON: We weren't told all the ancillary infections you can get from it: the ear aches, the sinus problems, strep throat, all these side infections.
KNOX: So that's why, Steve, that doctors say they want to know if you don't get better within five to seven days, or you get better and then get sick again. These are all signs of possible infections that come on after the flu, and they need to be treated.
INSKEEP: You know, you mention that Mr. Wilson's whole family had the flu. I'm thinking of my brother, where most of the family has been sick but not quite everybody yet. Should we assume that whole family's going to get sick?
KNOX: Not necessarily. One mother in our pediatrician's office who came in with her two little girls asked an interesting version of that question. Her name is Stephanie Payne(ph).
Ms. STEPHANIE PAYNE: I work in a child care center. And my children attend a child care center. So I think my main concern is if one child gets it, how quickly it could spread through an entire center?
KNOX: Well, we all know that flu can sweep through an entire daycare center or a classroom. But recent research shows that when somebody gets sick in a household, only one in four of the household members will get sick on average.
The pediatrician here, Dr. Greenes, says that he's known couples who didn't share the virus. And he's known kids who didn't infect their siblings.
INSKEEP: Although, this leads to another question, because I have heard from people who've had swine flu or been diagnosed with swine flu who said give me Tamiflu, give me that flu medicine. Let me do what I can. Is that a good idea?
KNOX: There are different philosophies on that. The official advice from the CDC says that Tamiflu should be considered for anybody with a condition like asthma or diabetes or other chronic diseases. Dr. Greenes, the pediatrician we talked to, is more conservative. He says that, you know, some kids have stomach problems with Tamiflu and he doesn't want to make them feel worse. And other doctors, you know, worry about having too many people on Tamiflu because the virus might become resistant.
INSKEEP: NPR's Richard Knox is in Boston, where he's been getting answers to some people's questions about swine flu. And we're going to bring another voice to the conservation now, our colleague Joanne Silberner.
JOANNE SILBERNER: Hi, Steve.
INSKEEP: And where did you listen to people's concerns about the flu?
SILBERNER: In Washington, D.C. And this is what's going to give you a little bit of an idea.
Unidentified Man: Welcome. Thank you so much for coming out to DOH's H1N1 mass vaccination clinic program.
SILBERNER: That's at Kelly Miller Middle School in Washington, D.C.
Unidentified Man: All right? So what we need for you is to please be patient. We're going to start letting people all in in five minutes.
SILBERNER: There was a line. There's definitely a line, and there is a shortage of vaccine.
INSKEEP: And so who's allowed to get the doses, at least at the place where you were?
SILBERNER: Well, generally speaking, it's pregnant women, people who care for very young children, health care workers, people age six months to 24 years, and people 25 to 64 who have chronic medical conditions.
INSKEEP: I guess you saw people who fit into at least one of those categories now online, right?
SILBERNER: Oh, yeah. And here's one of them. This is Jacqueline Geller.
Ms. JACQUELINE GELLER: I'm currently eight months pregnant, so I'm here to get a flu shot. And I have a daughter who's a one-year-old, so she's here to get a flu shot, as well.
INSKEEP: You know, we got an email from another mother. Her name is Tara Lund. She's in Portland, Oregon. She's got a couple of young kids, six months old, two years old, and this is her question: If they get the flu before the immunization is available, should they still be vaccinated?
SILBERNER: Yeah. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention says yes. Unless Tara Lund's kids were tested using a very precise test for H1N1, she can't know for sure if the flu that they had really was H1N1 swine flu or maybe even not a flu at all, maybe a cold or something else. And if they get the vaccine and it turns out that they actually did have the flu, there's no real downside there.
INSKEEP: You know, I'm glad you mentioned testing, because I've heard stories of people who've had what is believed to be swine flu but they were never tested by the doctor, as well as people who have taken the test. Why would not everyone be tested if they went to a doctor?
SILBERNER: The office test is really imprecise, so you don't know if you get a yes or a no and if that's correct. The good test costs a couple of hundred dollars. It's not widely available around the country, and it won't make a difference in how you're treated. You know, if you've got fever, aches and pains like Dick described, you still need to rest, get plenty of fluids and stay home.
INSKEEP: What other questions did you hear?
SILBERNER: Well, the pregnant mother, Jacqueline Geller, raised an issue that we also hear a lot about from listeners.
Ms. GELLER: Well, another friend of mine asked me today, she had heard that there was mercury in some vaccines and she wanted to know if it was safe, because she's pregnant as well.
INSKEEP: OK. Is it safe?
SILBERNER: Yes. When you get the vaccine - the H1N1 vaccine - from a multiple dose vial, it is preserved with some called thimerosol, and that does contain a form of mercury, and that's true of the standard seasonal flu vaccine, as well. It's very little mercury, less than you get in the can of tuna. And now it's been said before, and I'll say it again, numerous scientific studies of vaccine have failed to show any connection between the mercury in vaccines and autism or any other problem. But if you're still worried, some H1N1 vaccine is available in single doses, and that doesn't contain any preservative.
INSKEEP: So mercury doesn't present a problem, and even if it did, you can get the vaccine without the mercury.
SILBERNER: That's right.
INSKEEP: And by the way, we're still hearing sounds of that vaccination clinic in Washington, D.C. where Joanne did some interviews some days ago. And, you know, in all the questions we've received, there is one question that nobody asked, but it was very much on the mind of my daughter. Does the swine flu shot hurt?
(Soundbite of baby crying)
SILBERNER: Well, this young expert said it stinged a little bit.
Unidentified Woman: Oh, my dear(ph).
(Soundbite of laughter)
INSKEEP: Thanks very much.
That's NPR's Joanne Silberner, and we heard earlier from NPR's Richard Knox. And you can go to npr.org for answers to more of your questions about swine flu. And that's Your Health for this Monday morning.
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INSKEEP: It's MORNING EDITION from NPR News.