In June 2009, World Health Organization officials declared the H1N1 influenza virus—commonly known as swine flu—a global pandemic. It is the first time they have taken this measure in 40 years. Some projections have warned there will be between 30,000 to 90,000 deaths in America caused by swine flu—compared with 36,000 deaths from flu complications in a typical year.

Flash back three years ago to when the world braced for the dangerous spread of a different strain of influenza called H5N1—commonly known as bird flu. While the United States ended up escaping a full-on outbreak of H5N1, it killed nearly 200 people worldwide. How did we escape? The H5N1 virus never mutated into a form communicable by human-to-human contact (everyone who died caught the virus from birds, not other humans). But swine flu can be spread from human-to-human contact.

As the winter flu season dawns in the Northern hemisphere—coinciding with the start of the school year—questions about a swine flu vaccine are becoming more urgent.

What are the symptoms of swine flu?
Dr. Michael Osterholm—who answered questions about bird flu on The Oprah Winfrey Show in 2006—says in most cases, you won't be able to tell the difference between regular seasonal flu and swine flu. Both result in muscle aches, fever and chills.

According to Dr. Julie Morita, medical director of the Chicago Department of Public Health's immunization program, the only way to be sure that a person has seasonal flu or swine flu is by taking a laboratory test. This test, she says, is only recommended for those who are sick enough to be hospitalized or whose health conditions increase their risk for dangerous complications from flu.


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