Editor's note: Some information regarding reported cases and vaccines has been updated. See related articles above.
The information regarding the H1N1 swine-origin flu is changing frequently as more cases are confirmed and knowledge of the virus grows. The following Q&A provides current information on the flu, with key messages to help the public put in perspective the outbreak's impact on northeast Indiana at this time.
Q: Why has this flu strain been called “swine flu,” although it's not been found in pigs in Mexico or the United States?
A: It is called that because the influenza type A H1N1 virus was first isolated from a pig in 1930.
Q: What do the H and N stand for?
A: The H stands for hemagglutinin and the N for neuramidinase, sugar proteins on the surface of the virus. With 16 types of H proteins and nine types of N, 144 different combinations are possible, making tracking and identification difficult.
Q: While flu is usually spread through coughing or sneezing, can I catch it from touching something?
A: It can live a short time on objects, so frequent hand-washing and sanitizing of publicly touched objects are important. You cannot get it from handling something imported from Mexico or by eating pork.
Q: If I am exposed, how long until symptoms would appear?
A: Two to seven days. If exposed and you have no symptoms after a week, you are safe, at least from that exposure.
Q: How long does it take to get a nasal swab flu test confirmed?
A: Four to seven days, usually, with preliminary testing by the state and additional testing/confirmation by the Centers for Disease Control in Atlanta. To eliminate backlog, trial test kits have been sent to New York and California. If proved effective, by Monday, the kits will be sent to states so they can do case confirmation.
Q: If I had a flu shot last year, am I protected?
A: No, because this is a new virus. The federal government is “growing” the H1N1 virus now in preparation for a vaccine.
Q: Are soap and water better than alcohol-gel hand sanitizers?
A: Both are OK, but hands must be washed minimally 20 to 30 seconds; carry a small bottle of hand sanitizer.
Q: Since most U.S. cases have been mild, is this considered a less severe strain?
A: Possibly, but the 1918 flu started mildly in the spring, then stopped, and got more severe by winter.
Q: Is it true that Allen County has confirmed H1N1 cases, but the public has not been informed?
A: County Health Commissioner Dr. Deborah McMahan says: “All of the tests we have sent down (to ISDH) so far are negative,” but more are sent each day. Due to mobility of people, positive cases are likely at some point.
Q: So what should I be doing now?
A: In addition to taking personal infection-control measures, families should prepare as they would for any natural or man-made disaster or any major community emergency: have food, water and medicines on hand; have a backup plan if schools or day cares close. Find out if you can work from home and develop a family communication plan. Local pharmacies have “family flu kits.”