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April 29th, 2009
03:54 PM ET

How can you get protection from the flu?

By David S. Martin
CNN Medical Senior Producer

The details we heard this morning were vague but heartbreaking nonetheless: a 22-month-old from Mexico died from the swine flu in Texas. As a parent, the loss of a child is the worst imaginable tragedy. For those of us living in the United States, the toddler’s death lets us know that we do not necessarily have protection against this new virus that had until now resulted in deaths in Mexico but nowhere else.

There’s something else. Something history is warning us. The four deadliest pandemics in the last 120 years arrived at the end of a flu season, dissipated and then returned with a vengeance the following winter. That’s what happened in the deadliest pandemic ever: the so-called Spanish flu, which arrived in March 1918 but took its devastating toll in the winter of 1918-19. More than 20 million died worldwide. Worldwide flu outbreaks in 1889, 1957 and 1968 also followed this pattern. The virus’ second appearance in the winter was in each case much more deadly than the initial outbreak in the spring.

This history is no doubt on the mind of Dr. Richard Besser, acting director of the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention in Atlanta, Georgia. At his briefing Tuesday, he said the CDC was considering making a swine flu vaccine. But it isn’t simply a matter of adding this vaccine to the seasonal vaccine offered each fall.

The seasonal flu vaccine for the winter of 2009-10 is already in production, and the government has already chosen which three flu strains to protect us against. The swine flu isn’t among them, and the process doesn’t allow for simply adding a fourth strain to the mix. That means a swine flu vaccine would have to be separate shot.

If a separate swine flu shot became available this fall, would you take it?

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soundoff (11 Responses)
  1. Ellen Blanchette

    In listing what we should do everyone says "wash your hands" but no one says "don't share food and drinks." As any mother or school teacher knows, children share food and drinks with each other all the time. And children are the ones that get sick first and are the engine in the spreading of flu throughout the population.

    The other thing I haven't heard is for people at work, they should wipe their telephones with an alcohol wipe if they've left their desks for any length of time. It is so common for people in big offices to just use a phone on someone's desk without that person knowing it. I have gotten sick this way and a lot of people know to do this. This makes much more sense than telling people to wipe down their keyboards as I have heard.

    April 30, 2009 at 10:39 | Report abuse | Reply
  2. Kraig Rasool

    I personally believe that getting back to basics...like simple washing
    of the hands and overall personal hygeine comes into play more
    than ever now. The media can literally make people scared to even
    leave their homes, and panic is certainly not needed during chaos.
    I myself would not take a flu shot, as I have never taken one in the
    past...I trust that my immune system can and will take care of me
    in the event that my body in is contact with something unfamiliar.

    April 30, 2009 at 10:53 | Report abuse | Reply
  3. Sarah Alles

    I've been wondering why there have been no news stories (at least that I've seen) about the appalling conditions in which most livestock (swine, cattle etc.) are raised before they are brought to market. Surely, the overcrowding and filth, as well as the almost mandatory use of antibiotics to enable these animals to reach a marketable size have contributed to ever more deadly strains of infection that can be and apparently has been transmitted to humans.

    April 30, 2009 at 12:25 | Report abuse | Reply
  4. Mike Sewell

    Eliminating as many touches as possible will certainly help. Installing hands free door openers (like StepNpull) on public restroom doors is one way to reduce the spread of germs.

    May 1, 2009 at 14:55 | Report abuse | Reply
  5. Michael Surita

    For us here in the UNITED STATES we need to send a message to all pharmacy's that sell tamiflu please don't charge the poor 150.00 to 200.00 who can't afford to pay for it let the goverment give it out for free let's stop this NOW

    May 1, 2009 at 17:40 | Report abuse | Reply
  6. lisa

    If more people would follow basic rules for keeping clean we can avoid many things or slow the progression of it. I wish that people would stop being so afraid of things and rail against it. The media I think prays on peoples fears and people think that because it's on TV it must be true. Well a lot of commentary is taken out of context and not everyone's situation is the same as the next. We cannot sit by and cower in the corner and wait till its over we must fight and find ways to combat anything that is put against us. Whether it be sickness, the economy or other things. Take care of each other and God Bless you all. It will be tough but, we will survive.

    May 2, 2009 at 00:58 | Report abuse | Reply
  7. Bill Pettingill

    I am with the County of San Diego (County Counsel) and have a question about flu transmission prevention steps. Regarding masks, they are recommended only in limited circumstances but not for general wearing. And I understand the rationale behind that. However, one universally-accepted (and published) step is to avoid touching one's face with one's hands, especially the mouth and nose. This is obviously because a person cannot have their hands in a perpetual state of being washed, especially when out in public, grabbing handrails and the like. Touching one's face is often not a consciously-made movement. Given the foregoing, isn't it true that wearing a mask would help prevent inadventent touching of one's face? It would clearly actually prevent touching the nose and mouth, and would serve to remind one not to touch their eyes. So why don't the advisory steps simply add "Wearing a face mask may help prevent inadvertent touching of one's face?" It seems like a simple step and no trouble to add to the advisories.

    May 2, 2009 at 09:18 | Report abuse | Reply
  8. Linda

    Because healthy people with robust immune systems can sometimes die from novel flu strains (due to the "cytokine storm" process) , I want to pose the following questions: Would it be advantageous for healthy people to contract and recover from this apparantly weak strain in circulation now? Would these people be at an advantage if this strain were to come back more virulent at a later time, since they would have partial immunity to the newer strain (because the body's cytokine production would not be so high)?

    May 2, 2009 at 13:02 | Report abuse | Reply
  9. Angela

    Yes I would take it and get my kids to take it as well.

    May 5, 2009 at 13:00 | Report abuse | Reply
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Get a behind-the-scenes look at the latest stories from CNN Chief Medical Correspondent, Dr. Sanjay Gupta, Senior Medical Correspondent Elizabeth Cohen and the CNN Medical Unit producers. They'll share news and views on health and medical trends - info that will help you take better care of yourself and the people you love.