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Experts answer questions about flu, vaccine

MONTREAL -- What is fact and what is fiction when it comes to the H1N1 or swine flu and the vaccine?

Here are some questions and answers with Dr. Dalius Briedis, director of the clinical infectious diseases unit at the Royal Victoria Hospital in Montreal and Ariel Fenster, a chemistry professor at McGill University who works with the school's Office of Science and Society.

Can vaccine cause flu?

No, said Briedis and Fenster. And the H1N1 vaccine is 80 to 95 per cent effective.

Is H1N1 worse than the regular flu?

Not for most people. "Stay home if you have a cough and a temperature over 38C," Briedis said.

Without seeing a doctor how can I tell what I have?

A flu includes a fever (temperature of 38C or higher), shaking and chills, severe muscle aches and headaches, coughing and the incapacity to go to work, Briedis said.

H1N1 can also be marked by a shortness of breath "like someone is strangling you," said Briedis. If that is the case, seek medical attention.

Don't go to the hospital unless the symptoms, especially shortness of breath, persist.

How effective is handwashing against H1N1?

Ninety-five per cent of those who get H1N1 will get it from airborne droplets spread by infected people (likely through coughs), Briedis said.

"But handwashing is great at preventing so many other things that get you sick, like cold viruses."

What's the point of getting vaccinated if most people will be fine after a few days sick in bed?

"Good question," said Fenster. "The fear is that many people will get sick around the same time... Imagine if all at once there weren't enough nurses or bus drivers, for example."

When will people get it?

The flu generally has a six-week time frame to do its worst. Briedis said the H1N1 season is here, and it could last weeks or months longer than the regular flu season.

In the last 36 hours, Briedis saw five patients with H1N1 at the Royal Vic's ER. They were between the ages of 20 and 35.

-- Canwest News Service


Republished from the Winnipeg Free Press print edition October 28, 2009 A6

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