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Ask André Picard

Reader questions on H1N1 answered Add to ...

A: Current policy is to test only people who are so sick that they require hospitalization. The H1N1 test is quick and easy but testing everyone would be a tremendous waste of money and limited lab resources. If you have the flu, it is almost certainly H1N1; sentinel testing showed that last week 99 per cent of influenza cases were H1N1.



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Q: How long can an infected person spread this virus to others?

A: Generally speaking, people infected with the flu shed virus and they can infect others from one day before getting sick, to up to seven days after. New research has shown people with H1N1 can be infectious up to 13 days after contracting the illness themselves.

Q: If people can infect others before they get sick and after they get better shouldn't we all stay home?

A: It is true that people can infect others when they have no visible or audible symptoms. But the reality is that they are far more likely to spread the virus when they are sick because of the coughing, runny nose and so on.

Q: Is it possible that the H1N1 virus will mutate and the vaccine will be useless?

A: It is possible but highly unlikely. To date, the H1N1 virus has been remarkably stable and the vaccine more effective than expected (for example requiring only one shot, not two). But when flu season comes around next year, you will need a new shot because the circulating strains will be different.



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Q: When will this all be over?

A: With H1N1, the flu season started early, so it will probably end early - the flu will likely have spread all over the country by Christmas. What happens after Christmas remains unclear, but likely the strains of seasonal flu will start to spread more aggressively.

Q: Who can I call if I have more questions?

A: The Public Health Agency of Canada has a H1N1 hotline 1-800454-8302. Most provinces and health regions also have telehealth lines that you can call for information, including where to get a flu shot.

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