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Swine Flu Q&A

¶ I feel sick. Should I go to Medical? Yes. Especially if you think you might have influenza, you should call the Medical Department for an appointment (617-253-4481). If none are available, you will be directed to MIT Medical’s urgent care (open 24 hours a day, free for students).

What will Medical do if I think I have influenza symptoms? They’ll run a rapid flu test. If it’s positive for Influenza A, you’ll be tested for Influenza A H1N1. MIT can’t run this test — they’ll outsource it to the Massachusetts Department of Public Health and the Centers for Disease Control, which takes a few days.

¶ I don’t feel sick. Should I go to Medical anyway? No. Try not to hang out around sick people during flu season. MIT Medical’s Urgent Care counts as “around sick people.”

¶ Should I get the flu vaccine? No. There’s no evidence that this year’s flu vaccine provides any “cross-immunity” to protect you from the H1N1 variant. Also, MIT Medical is out of flu shots. And, again, you should try to stay away from sick people.

¶ What are swine flu’s symptoms? The swine flu has the same symptoms as influenza: fever, headache, tiredness, cough, a sore throat, a runny or stuffy nose, aches, and diarrhea and vomiting. Fever, cough, and respiratory illness are the primary symptoms, the CDC said in a press briefing Monday.

¶ Has swine flu killed anyone in the United States? No. As of Monday afternoon, the CDC confirmed 40 cases within the United States, including 28 in New York. No one has died. In Mexico, more than a hundred deaths have been attributed to swine flu.

¶ Can swine flu be treated? Yes. According to the CDC, H1N1 is susceptible to antiviral drugs oseltamivir (Tamiflu) and zanamivir. Treatment with antivirals will shorten the duration of illness by a day or two, said Howard M. Heller, MIT Medical Chief of Internal Medicine.

¶ Is MIT ready for a swine flu pandemic? Yes. The Institute has worked on plans in the event of large-scale disease outbreak (a “pandemic”) for years. International concern over SARS (Severe Acute Respiratory Syndrome) in 2003 led the Institute to make disease plans, and those plans were updated during the international concern over avian flu (Influenza A H5N1) in 2006–7.

¶ What should I do? Wash your hands. Don’t touch your eyes, nose, or mouth when you’re out in public; you might touch something which a sick person touched or coughed on. Cover your nose and mouth when you cough or sneeze.

¶ Should I go to Mexico? Avoid nonessential travel, the Centers for Disease Control said on Monday night in an advisory available online at http://www.cdc.gov/swineflu. If you’ve recently come back from Mexico and don’t feel ill, you’re probably fine.

What does “H1N1” stand for? The CDC is diagnosing cases of influenza type A, which is the most common genus of the influenza virus. The H1N1 designation describes proteins on the surface of the virus. “H1” indicates that this virus has a hemagglutinin protein — which allows the virus to attach to human cells — of type one. “N1” indicates that the virus has a neuraminidase protein — which allows newly synthesized viruses to detach from the cells and spread — of type one.