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Swine Flu Pandemic FAQ

What the swine flu pandemic means to you.

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 pandemicflu.gov 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.

Past pandemics have lasted two or three years. This time, the pandemic may be shorter.

That's because the world has steadily been building up its ability to make flu vaccines -- and because the new H1N1 swine flu virus was discovered and isolated in record time.

It's possible that a successful vaccination campaign could significantly shorten the pandemic. Whether this will happen remains to be seen.

Interestingly, pandemic flu viruses don't go away when the pandemic ends. Often they stick around to become a new seasonal flu bug, replacing one of the seasonal viruses.

What is the government doing about the pandemic?

There's been a strong response by the U.S. federal government to the swine flu epidemic. State and local responses have been vigorous, but in many areas have been -- and will be -- hampered by budget cuts to health departments.

The federal Department of Health and Human Services and Department of Homeland Security are working extremely hard. These efforts have focused on preparing to assist state and local responses and on developing a swine flu vaccine.

The vaccine effort is very complicated. Early steps have gone well. The CDC has isolated and given to vaccine manufacturers a "seed virus" that can be used to make a vaccine. Now manufacturers are working to make an actual vaccine.

Once there's a first lot of vaccine, the National Institutes of Health will test it on human volunteers to see if it seems to work -- and if it seems to be safe.

Meanwhile, the U.S. government has purchased bulk materials for commercial-scale vaccine manufacture. Purchase of needles and syringes will follow. But the big questions -- whether to go ahead with full-scale vaccine manufacture, who should be vaccinated first, and how the vaccine will be distributed -- remain to be answered.

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