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What's potentially more dangerous than a global pandemic? One thing may be a universal disregard for the truth. As the number of occurrences of H1N1 (Swine) Flu goes down, we continue to face risks to public health in the form of misinformation, half-truths, and outright scams that take advantage of our fears about the disease.
During the last weeks of 2009, influenza activity continued to decrease in the United States, as reported in the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention's FluView. Influenza is hard to predict, but the flu is expected to continue for months, caused by either 2009 H1N1 viruses or regular seasonal flu viruses. Holiday travelling and get-togethers may cause an increase in the spread of infection, so people should continue to practice safe habits when it comes to preventing the flu.
But myths and misinformation seem to be viral too, and there are many quick-spreading misconceptions that you should guard against.
Myth: The H1N1 vaccine is unsafe and untested.
One of the most dangerous myths being spread is that the vaccine is unsafe, leading many to believe that it's more dangerous than the flu itself. However, according to the CDC, clinical trials conducted by the National Institutes of Health and the vaccine manufacturers have shown that the new H1N1 vaccine is both safe and effective. The FDA has licensed it, and there have been no safety shortcuts.
In fact, this vaccine is produced exactly the same way the seasonal flu vaccine is produced. Had H1N1 struck this country earlier than spring of 2009, the H1N1 strain probably would have been included as part of this year's seasonal flu shot.
The CDC has kept close tabs on the H1N1 vaccine to see if there are any possible adverse reactions, and they say they don't expect any serious side effects, since it's so closely related to the seasonal flu vaccine. Their top doctors and scientists believe that the risks of the flu are higher than any risk that might come from the vaccine--especially when it comes to pregnant women, children, and people with underlying health conditions.
Myth: The H1N1 vaccine is expensive, hard to find, and you need two doses of it.
The federal government has purchased the H1N1 vaccine and is providing it free of charge to all 50 states. If you visit a clinic that charges a fee, we (Regence) will provide coverage for the costs associated with the administration of the H1N1 vaccine, and waive co-pays and deductibles for all members covered by our insured plans. Note: You must go to a participating provider or a pharmacy that is contracted with us to provide the vaccine in order to assure you have no out-of-pocket expense. Learn more about your flu vaccine coverage and where to find a participating provider or pharmacy here. The vaccine is now being created in large quantities, so it shouldn't be a problem to find a clinic near you.
And here's some more good news: According to the National Institutes of Health and manufacturers of the flu vaccine, the H1N1 vaccine is a good match with the H1N1 virus currently circulating across the country, and healthy adults and children 10 years and older will need only one dose of vaccine. Plus, you can get the seasonal flu shot and the H1N1 shot at the same time. (However, if you get the nasal spray form of the vaccine, you need to wait three to four weeks before getting another nasal spray vaccine.)
Myth: People are catching H1N1 from pets.
Although it is very uncommon for flu viruses to jump between species, there have been a few cases of cats, ferrets and dogs catching H1N1 from humans. So far, there have been no instances of people contracting the disease from animals. While it may be possible, you are much more likely to catch the flu (any type of flu, including the H1N1 flu) from a person than an animal. To date, all of the pets infected with the virus became infected from being around their ill owners.
Anytime you're feeling ill and have flulike symptoms, you should probably limit your contact with your pets until you're feeling better. And of course, if your pet is showing signs of illness, you should take it to see a veterinarian as soon as possible.
Myth: Certain "miracle products" can prevent - or cure - the flu.
Unfortunately, unscrupulous opportunists are attempting to cash in on flu fears. There are several websites--and quite a few emails being forwarded around--about the amazing powers of products like shampoos, inhalers, herbs, and gels that are illegally marketed as preventing the H1N1 flu virus. The FDA lists about 150 products that are not approved to fight H1N1 yet are being touted for that purpose.
As the old saying goes, if something sounds too good to be true, it probably is. Always exercise caution before buying any product that claims to diagnose, prevent, treat, or cure the virus. And report any suspicious or fraudulent activities to the FDA.
Get more information about H1N1 myths and realities from Flu.gov, and get the facts to keep well--and well-informed.
About the Author
Lisa Cannon has been a writer and editor for nearly 20 years. She writes about everything from the health benefits of journal writing to the best ways to recycle computer hardware. She lives in beautiful Portland, Ore.