Question: Should I be alarmed by the H1N1 flu known as "swine flu?"
Answer: President Barack Obama has put this strain of flu in perspective. He said H1N1 flu is "cause for concern, but not alarm." He also said government officials were monitoring the situation closely and that the safety of the American people was his top priority.
Question: Is it worse than other flus?
Answer: Officials don't know if H1N1 flu will be more severe than other seasonal flus, which kill 36,000 people on average every years and cause about 200,000 hospitalizations. H1N1 may run its course like ordinary flus.
Question: Why are people so concerned?
Answer: The reason scientists are so concerned is because the H1N1 flu is a new strain. That means Americans and people around the world have not built up immunity in the same way that they have to seasonal flus, which may mutate, but remain in the same band. New strains present challenges for our immune systems, which may not deal with it as effectively. That can mean that young people and healthy people can die from it - not just those with compromised immune systems.
Question: Where did this H1N1 flu surface and how long did it take for public health officials to go into action?
Answer: The first outbreak was in Mexico and officials mobilized about a week later.
Question: What's the goal - since no one knows how severe it will be?
Answer: The U.S. is planning for the worst-case scenario and for the long term. The H1N1 strain could be relatively mild on the front end, but it could come back in a more virulent form during the actual flu season.
Question: How is the government preparing for this flu in the short- and long-term?
Answer: Officials are discussing the productions of vaccines in anticipation of the flu season. They are making sure federal agencies are coordinating and that they have appropriate action plans.
White House officials are working with the Department of Education to provide clear guidelines for school closures. They are also working with the U.S. Chamber of Comerce to ensure that businesses are supportive of hourly workers who need to stay home but may be worried about losing their jobs because they don't have sick leave. They also are discussing how to respond to other countries who need help in dealing with the flu.
The Center for Disease Control Web site will be updated regularly as information becomes available.
Influenza is thought to spread mainly person-to-person through coughing or sneezing of infected people. Take everyday actions to stay healthy.
Call 1-800-CDC-INFO for more information.
Washing your hands often will help protect you from germs. Wash with soap and water or clean with alcohol-based hand cleaner. We recommend that when you wash your hands -- with soap and warm water -- that 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.