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Health

This Week in Swine Flu: Vaccines Approved!, Masks vs. Hand-Washing

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The big news in swine flu this week: Vaccines from four drugmakers have been approved for use in the United States, and with the companies' production lines cranking there will be plenty to go around. Clinical trials have also shown that a single shot is enough to create a strong immune response, which means stockpiles will go twice as far as they would have if two shots were necessary. Said U.S. Health Secretary Kathleen Sebelius:

"There will be vaccines for everyone." ... The first doses should be available within the next four weeks, according to the FDA [Reuters].

But as flu season is already ramping up, some people are wondering what they can do to protect themselves until the vaccine is available. One enterprising reporter decided to find out what her daily routine would be like if she wore a paper jumpsuit, mask, goggles, and gloves provided by a company called Flu Armor. But experts are reminding the public that face masks, which became a symbol of the initial outbreak in Mexico last spring, are really designed

to stop the spread of droplets from the person wearing the mask, not to protect the wearer from viruses [Los Angeles Times].

The most effective preventive measure is also a simple one: wash your hands with soap often, or use an alcohol-based hand sanitizer. Experts note that

hand-to-face contact has a surprising impact on health. Germs can enter the body through breaks in the skin or through the membranes of the eyes, mouth and nose [The New York Times].

The swine flu outbreak appears to be underway at colleges and universities around the country. A survey

by the American College Health Association found influenza-like illness at 72 percent of schools surveyed as of Sept. 4.... Cornell University, in Upstate New York, has reported more than 520 cases, according to the Ithaca Journal newspaper. A Cornell junior died Friday of complications related to flu [Washinton Post];

it was the second reported flu death of a U.S. college student this academic year. On the other side of the globe, Egypt took the drastic step of closing all schools and universities until October. Although the continuing spread of the H1N1 virus and the massive vaccination effort are likely to keep health care providers busy in the ensuing months, one expert offered a cheering prediction: Dr. Marc Lipsitch of Harvard University says the death toll from swine flu is likely to be lower than previously estimated. Lipsitch says that new

estimates suggest that the death rate compares to a moderate year of seasonal influenza.... "It's mildest in kids. That's one of the really good pieces of news in this pandemic" [Reuters].

Related Content: 80beats: This Week in Swine Flu: Good News on Vaccines, Bad News in China 80beats: This Week in Swine Flu: Elmo, Mobile Apps, & Back-to-School Fears 80beats: This Week in Swine Flu: How Many Deaths, Vaccine in Sight & Tough OldstersImage: iStockphoto

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