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Last modified: Wednesday, November 4, 2009

H1N1 Influenza A FAQ

Unlike recent flu seasons, this year there are two flu vaccines -- one for the seasonal flu and one for the H1N1 Influenza. Hospitals and doctors' offices across the country are receiving the H1N1 vaccine and will continue to as the flu season progresses. IU Health Center Medical Directorwith h Dr. Diana Ebling provides answers to some of the commonly asked questions about the H1N1 flu vaccine.

Q. What is H1N1 (swine flu)?
H1N1 (referred to as "swine flu" early on) is a new influenza virus causing illness in people. This new virus was first detected in people in the United States in April 2009. The virus causing the current influenza outbreak is not a swine flu virus, but a combination of human, swine and bird viruses. This virus is spreading from person-to-person, the same way that regular seasonal influenza viruses spread.

Q. I had the 2009 H1N1 flu earlier this year. Do I still need the H1N1 vaccination and why?
If a state department of health identified your virus as H1N1 then no. That test takes several days and is not done in a doctor's office. Most people will not have had this confirmatory H1N1 test at the state department of health and are advised to get the H1N1 vaccine even if they had the flu this year. If you were not tested or if the rapid flu test was done in your doctor's office, then yes you still need the H1N1 vaccine.

Q. How does 2009 H1N1 flu spread?
Through personal contact with a person sick with the disease when you are exposed to their respiratory secretions from coughing or sneezing. It is also spread by your hands coming in contact with contaminated surfaces or items and touching your mouth, nose or eyes. This is why it's so important to cover your nose and mouth when coughing or sneezing and wash your hands frequently.

Q. What can I do to protect myself from getting sick?
The best prevention is to get the H1N1 vaccine and to take these everyday actions to protect your health and help prevent the spread of germs that cause respiratory illnesses like influenza:

  • Cover your nose and mouth with a tissue when you cough or sneeze. Throw the tissue in the trash after you use it.
  • Wash your hands often with soap and water, especially after you cough or sneeze. Alcohol-based hand cleaners are also effective. Watch this hand washing instructional video from the CDC.
  • Avoid touching your eyes, nose or mouth. Germs spread this way.
  • Try to avoid close contact with sick people.
  • If you get sick with influenza, CDC recommends that you stay home from work or school and limit contact with others to keep from infecting them.
  • Avoid shaking hands.

Q. Is the H1N1 vaccine safe? Isn't it too new to trust?
This vaccine is made just like seasonal flu vaccines and is expected to be as safe.

Q. I am 10 weeks pregnant and want to know if the shot will contain mercury?
Yes, there is a preservative, Thimerosal, in the injectable H1N1 vaccine that we will be administering which contains a very small amount of mercury. It is present in many different vaccinations. It has never been scientifically shown to cause adverse health effects. Keep in mind that there is less mercury in this vaccine than is present in a can of tuna. However, if you still want to avoid this you can check with your own health care provider to see if they have the nasal mist flu vaccine which doesn't contain the preservative.

Q. The 1976 swine flu vaccine wasn't safe. Why should I trust this one?
The 2009 H1N1 is a completely different virus and vaccine. The new H1N1 vaccine is manufactured like more recent flu shots which have been very safe.

Q. Can I get the H1N1 flu vaccine if I haven't had the seasonal flu vaccine?
Yes, but both are recommended.

Q. I'm not in one of the priority groups for the H1N1 vaccine. Will there still be enough vaccine for me?
Yes, the CDC expects there to be enough vaccine for everyone in the United States who wants one. Please be patient, it likely will take many weeks to become available to everyone.

Q. What's the difference between the nasal spray and injectable vaccines?
The nasal vaccine is weakened live virus. The shot is killed, inactivated virus. To learn more you can go to

Q. Are you personally going to get the H1N1 vaccine?
I have already taken it so yes.

Q. Should I wait a few weeks between the seasonal flu vaccine and the H1N1 vaccine, or is it safe to get them on the same day?
No, unless you are receiving the live virus nasal mist, then you need to wait 28 days between the seasonal and H1N1 nasal mist doses. IU will only be receiving the inactivated, injectable vaccine.

Q. Do those who have been previously vaccinated for the 1976 swine influenza need to get vaccinated against the 2009 H1N1 influenza?
Yes. H1N1 vaccine protects against a completely different, new flu virus.

Q. How is the H1N1 Influenza different from seasonal influenza?
They are both type A influenza viruses, but H1N1 virus is a new quadruple reassortant virus with a unique combination of gene segments of the viruses that cause influenza in pigs, birds and humans. Because it is a new virus most people don't have immunity and are susceptible to getting it.

Q. Will wearing a face mask protect me from catching H1N1 influenza?
Probably not. Self isolation of sick persons is the best prevention for the spread influenza. Masks are recommended for sick persons to reduce the spread of their viral laden secretions when they must be out of isolation.

Q. How long can an infected person spread the H1N1 flu to others?
People with the H1N1 influenza virus infection should be considered potentially contagious as long as they are symptomatic and possibly for up to 7 days following illness onset. Children, especially younger children, might potentially be contagious for longer periods. CDC advises people with influenza to remain self-isolated for 24 hours after the fever is gone without the use of medication such as Tylenol or Ibuprofen.

Q. How many cases of North America Human Influenza A (H1N1) flu have been identified?
Updated information about the number of confirmed cases in the U.S. can be found at

Q. Should I ask my doctor for a prescription anti-flu drug?
No. Antiviral drugs are usually used to treat people who are at risk for developing life-threatening complications from the flu. There is no reason to routinely ask for one of these drugs to keep at home, or to take them just as a precaution. Over-use could result in limited supplies for those who need it most. In addition, over-use of antiviral drugs has been known to lead to flu viruses becoming resistant to the drugs. All drugs, including antivirals, can cause side effects and should only be used when necessary under the direction of a health care provider.

Q. What surfaces are most likely to be sources of contamination?
Germs can be spread when a person touches something that is contaminated with germs and then touches his or her eyes, nose, or mouth. Droplets from a cough or sneeze of an infected person move through the air. Germs can be spread when a person touches respiratory droplets from another person on a surface like a desk and then touches their own eyes, mouth or nose before washing their hands.

Q. How long can influenza virus remain viable on objects (such as books, water fountains and doorknobs)?
The CDC reports that studies have shown the influenza virus can survive on environmental surfaces and can infect a person for up to 2-8 hours after being deposited on the surface.

Q. What is the best technique for washing my hands to avoid getting the flu?
Washing your hands often will help protect you from germs. Wash with soap and water or clean with alcohol-based hand cleaner. The CDC recommends that, when you wash your hands with soap and warm water, you wash for 15 to 20 seconds. When soap and water are not available, alcohol-based disposable hand wipes or gel sanitizers may be used. You can find them in most supermarkets and drugstores. If using gel, rub your hands until the gel is dry. The gel doesn't need water to work; the alcohol in it kills the germs on your hands. Watch a video from the CDC.

Q. Can household cleaning help prevent transmission?
Yes. To help prevent transmission, all hard surfaces, such as doorknobs, refrigerator door handles, telephones, and bathroom surfaces, should be washed with soap or detergent, rinsed with water and then disinfected and rinsed. Disinfectants are those with "registered disinfectant" on the label. If disinfectants are not available, use a chlorine bleach solution made by adding 1 tablespoon of bleach to a quart (4 cups) of water. Use a cloth to apply this to surfaces and then rinse them with water. Dispose of the used bleach solution and mix a fresh solution when repeating the cleaning process. Use sanitizer cloths to wipe electronic items (phones, computers, remote controls) that are touched often.

Q. Can I get swine flu from eating or preparing pork?
No. Swine influenza viruses are not spread by food. You cannot get swine influenza from eating pork or pork products. Eating properly handled and cooked pork products is safe.

The answer to this last question comes from the American Veterinary Medical Association .

Q. Can my pet get this new influenza A (H1N1) virus?
Possibly. A cat in Iowa tested positive for the 2009 H1N1 influenza virus on Nov. 4, 2009, state officials confirmed -- the first time a cat has been diagnosed with this strain of influenza. The cat, which has recovered, is believed to have caught the virus from someone in the household who was sick with H1N1. There are no indications that the cat passed the virus on to any other animals or people. Prior to this diagnosis, the 2009 H1N1 influenza virus had been found in humans, pigs, birds and ferrets.

The American Veterinary Medical Association (AVMA) and the American Association of Feline Practitioners (AAFP) are reminding pet owners that some viruses can pass between people and animals, so this was not an altogether unexpected event. Pet owners should monitor their pets' health very closely, no matter what type of animal, and visit a veterinarian if there are any signs of illness.

The AVMA is actively tracking all instances of H1N1 in animals and posting updates on its Web site at