Swine Flu (cont.)

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Can swine flu be prevented with a vaccine?

The best way to prevent novel H1N1 swine flu is vaccination. The 2013 CDC recommendations that apply to H1N1, H3N2, and other flu viruses are almost identical to those above-mentioned recommendations for patients at risk when vaccine doses are limited and are as follows:

  • Are aged 6 months through 4 years (59 months)
  • Are aged 50 years and older
  • Have chronic pulmonary (including asthma), cardiovascular (except hypertension), renal, hepatic, neurologic, hematologic, or metabolic disorders (including diabetes mellitus)
  • Are immunosuppressed (including immunosuppression caused by medications or by human immunodeficiency virus)
  • Are or will be pregnant during the influenza season
  • Are aged 6 months through 18 years and receiving long-term aspirin therapy and who therefore might be at risk for experiencing Reye's syndrome after influenza virus infection
  • Are residents of nursing homes and other chronic-care facilities
  • Are American Indians/Alaska Natives
  • Are morbidly obese (body-mass index is 40 or greater)
  • Are health-care personnel
  • Are household contacts and caregivers of children aged younger than 5 years and adults aged 50 years and older, with particular emphasis on vaccinating contacts of children aged younger than 6 months
  • Are household contacts and caregivers of people with medical conditions that put them at higher risk for severe complications from influenza
  • As in previous recommendations, all children aged 6 months to 8 years of age who receive a seasonal influenza vaccine for the first time should receive two doses. Children who received only one dose of a seasonal influenza vaccine in the first influenza season should receive two doses rather than one in the following influenza season.
  • A newly approved inactivated trivalent vaccine containing 60 mcg of hemagglutinin antigen per influenza vaccine virus strain (Fluzone High-Dose [Sanofi Pasteur]) is an alternative inactivated vaccine for people 65 years of age and older.

The CDC occasionally makes changes and updates its information on vaccines and other recommendations about the current flu pandemic. The CDC states, "for the most accurate health information, visit http://www.cdc.gov or call 1-800-CDC-INFO, 24/7." Caregivers should check the vaccine package inserts for more detailed information on the vaccines when they become available.

The CDC says that a good way to prevent any flu disease is to avoid exposure to the virus; this is done by frequent hand washing, not touching your hands to your face (especially the nose and mouth), and avoiding any close proximity to or touching any person who may have flu symptoms. Since the virus can remain viable and infectious for about 48 hours on many surfaces, good hygiene and cleaning with soap and water or alcohol-based hand disinfectants are also recommended. Some physicians say face masks may help prevent getting airborne flu viruses (for example, from a cough or sneeze), but others think the better use for masks would be on those people who have symptoms and sneeze or cough.

The use of Tamiflu or Relenza may help prevent the flu if taken before symptoms develop or reduce symptoms if taken within about 48 hours after symptoms develop. Some investigators say that administration of these drugs is still useful after 48 hours, especially in high-risk patient populations. However, taking these drugs is not routinely recommended for prevention for the healthy population because investigators suggest that as occurs with most drugs, flu strains will develop resistance to these medications. During the H1N1 pandemic, the CDC made further suggestions about the use of these antiviral medications and developed the interim guidelines for use of Tamiflu and Relenza as follows:

  1. Patients with high-risk factors should discuss flu symptoms and when to use antiviral medications; doctors should provide a prescription for the antiviral drug for the patient to use if the patient is exposed to flu or develops flu-like symptoms without having to go in to see the doctor.
  2. "Watchful waiting" was added as a response to taking antiviral medications, with the emphasis on the fact that those people who develop fever and have a preexisting health condition should then begin the antiviral medication.
  3. The antiviral medications are the first-line medicines for treatment of novel H1N1, H3N2, and H3N2v flu, and most cases are to date susceptible to Tamiflu and Relenza.

In general, preventive measures to prevent the spread of flu are often undertaken by those people who have symptoms. Symptomatic people should stay at home, avoid crowds, and take off from work or school until the disease is no longer transmittable (about two to three weeks) or until medical help and advice is sought. Sneezing, coughing, and nasal secretions need to be kept away from other people; simply using tissues and disposing of them will help others. Quarantining patients is usually not warranted, but such measures depend on the severity of the disease. The CDC recommends that people who appear to have an influenza-like illness upon arrival at work or school or become ill during the day be promptly separated from other people and be advised to go home until at least 24 hours after they are free of fever (100 F [37.8 C] or greater), or signs of a fever, without the use of fever-reducing medications. The novel H1N1 swine flu disease takes about seven to 10 days before fevers stop, but research data suggests waiting until the cough is gone since many people are still infectious about one week after fever is gone. However, the CDC did not extend their recommendations to stay home for that extra week.

Medically Reviewed by a Doctor on 9/23/2013

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