WASHINGTON — Federal officials Wednesday urged against panic and asked for patience as the government works to distribute the H1N1 vaccine and contain the spread of the virus. Here are answers to some common questions about H1N1, known as the swine flu, and the government's response to the outbreak.
Is the flu really at its peak right now? Does that mean the outbreak is almost over?
Studies have predicted the H1N1 peak would occur about this time, but Health and Human Services Secretary Kathleen Sebelius has warned that it may be "overly optimistic" to assume the virus will peak and then be gone shortly after. Sebelius cited what happened last spring, when the virus didn't disappear after its peak.
Why are there fewer doses of the vaccine than had been originally estimated?
To make a vaccine, scientists first have to grow the virus in labs. Some viruses grow slower than others. A slow-growing virus can delay vaccine manufacturing time, as was the case with the H1N1 virus. There also were some glitches in the production lines that slowed the rate that manufacturers could package and release the vaccine. Sebelius said these issues had been resolved.
Why is the U.S. donating 10% of the vaccine to developing countries when we don't have enough for people in this country?
The H1N1 virus has affected the entire world, and officials want to contain its spread as much as possible. The U.S. joined with 11 other countries to commit to send vaccines to developing countries. But, Sebelius said, "At this point, the priority is getting the vaccine to citizens in this country."
What can people do to protect themselves against the flu if they can't get to a vaccination site?
Officials suggest that everyone follow basic flu safety guidelines, which include covering your mouth when you cough, frequently washing your hands and staying home if you feel sick.
If you want pharmaceutical protection, you can take an antiviral such as Tamiflu or Relenza. Antivirals are not as effective as the vaccine and require a doctor's prescription.
Since the vaccine is new, is it safe?
The vaccine has been approved by the Food and Drug Administration and has been tested by the National Institutes of Health. H1N1 is a strain of the flu, and the vaccine for it is produced in the same way that the vaccine for the seasonal flu is produced. The H1N1 vaccine is expected to be as safe as the seasonal flu vaccine.
I feel sick, but I'm not sure if it's H1N1. How can I tell without going to the doctor?
The federal government has created a web-based test that might help you decide if you should see a doctor. It can be found at flu.gov/evaluation.