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Swine Flu Pandemic FAQ

What the swine flu pandemic means to you.

Has H1N1 swine flu become more dangerous?

No. So far, the H1N1 swine flu virus that is spreading around the globe is very similar to the swine flu viruses first seen in North America.

Experts say the disease is moderate in severity. That is because most cases -- and most hospitalizations -- have been in young people 5 to 24 years old. A small proportion of these young people have died.

Even though most people who get swine flu recover fully, these troubling deaths in otherwise healthy young people make experts hesitate to call the disease "mild."

Flu viruses do, of course, mutate. They may become less dangerous. But they may become more deadly, possibly picking up virulence factors from other flu bugs circulating at the same time. The nightmare scenario is that the H1N1 swine flu would combine with the H5N1 bird flu to create a fast-spreading, lethal virus. But the chance of this happening is small.

And pandemics come in waves. They tend to appear, wane, and reappear over two or three years. Sometimes there may be a mild first wave, followed by far more serious waves. That's what happened in 1918 and 1919 -- and that's what keeps public health officials awake at night.

Am I less safe now that swine flu is pandemic?

aNo. In fact, the world likely is more safe now that all nations will be taking appropriate actions to limit the impact of the H1N1 swine flu pandemic.

What should I do now that a pandemic has been declared?

aThe pandemic alert is a good time to check your family and community preparedness plan.

If you don't know your community plan, check with local heath officials. Let them know if you think you might be able to volunteer in case your help is needed. Even a mild flu could disrupt local services if a large number of people fall ill.

And if you don't have a family checklist, it's time to make one. The CDC offers guidance at its web site.

When will the pandemic end?

Most pandemics end when enough people become immune to the disease -- either because they've survived infection or because they've been vaccinated.

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