What You Need to Know About the H1N1 Vaccine

H1N1 vaccine

We’ve received a number of questions and concerns about the swine flu and the H1N1 vaccine.¬†Indeed, a new survey by the Harvard School of Public Health finds that six in ten adults are not “absolutely certain” they will get the H1N1 vaccine, citing concerns over side effects, lack of perceived risk and belief that they could receive medication if they do get sick [1]. Just over half of parents surveyed report being “absolutely certain” they well get the vaccine for their children. To help disseminate credible information on the H1N1 vaccine and provide additional sources for review, we’ve put together¬†a list of questions and answers addressing what you need to know about the H1N1 vaccine.

H1N1 Vaccine Study Summaries: Single Dose Provides Protection

Preliminary results from two studies published online last week by the New England Journal of Medicine (NEJM) show that a single dose of the H1N1 vaccine will offer protection for most adults within three weeks of vaccination [1-2]. This is good news in the fight against H1N1, since the vaccine won’t be ready until the start of flu season. On Sunday, Health and Human Services Secretary Kathleen Sebelius said that some vaccine may be available as early as the first full week in October [3].

Put Your Hands Together and Fight the Flu

Although the immediate threat of H1N1 — the swine flu — appears to be benign, experts say that the emerging strain could return in a more virulent form in future flu seasons [1]. And with increasing reports of the swine flu close to home, hand washing is more important than ever. Indeed, hand washing is the best way to prevent infection and illness. Some scientists estimate that as much as 80% of all infections are transmitted by unwashed hands [2]. Hand washing is the single most important thing you can do to prevent the spread of infection and to stay healthy. As simple as it may be, there’s a trick to effectively washing your hands with soap and water.

handwashing

Kids learn early on in preschool that to truly prevent the spread of germs, you’ve got to wash your hands. Nevertheless, a dab of soap and a quick rinse isn’t effective. The key is to wash your hands for at least 20 seconds to ensure that you’ve removed the microbes. By rubbing your hands with soapy water, you pull dirt and oil from your skin. The soap lather suspends any germs trapped inside and are then washed away when rinsing.

Science and the Swine Flu

You’ve likely heard news reports this week about the swine flu virus outbreak in Mexico. The swine flu or swine influenza produces regular outbreaks of respiratory disease in pigs and is caused by influenza type A viruses. Transmission of swine flu viruses between people has been reported in the past, but was limited to three people. Today, the World Health Organization (WHO) raised its pandemic alert to "phase 5", which means that people in at least two countries in one WHO region are spreading the disease [1]. This was done following an increase to "phase 4" several days ago because the virus was already widespread in differnet locations, with confirmations in Mexico, the United States, Spain and Scotland.

While the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) has determined that the swine flu is contagious and is spreading from human to human [2], the WHO has indicated that most people infected with swine flu make a full recovery without the need for medical attention or antiviral drugs [3].

Lifetime Immunity From the Flu

Scientists report in the current issue of the journal Nature Structural and Molecular Biology the isolation of a group of high-affinity antibodies that are potent inhibitors of a wide range of influenza viruses, including the H5N1 avian flu, the 1918 Spanish flu and some seasonal strains [1]. The antibodies may someday be used to create a vaccine that provides lifetime immunity from the flu.

Seasonal flu hospitalizes an average of 226,000 people in the U.S. annually, killing 36,000 every year [2]. Influenza A viruses have been associated with an increasing number of deaths; from 1990 — 1999, the greatest mean number of flu deaths were associated with influenza A (H3N2) viruses [3]. Each season, between one quarter- and a half-million people die of influenza worldwide [4].