How worried should you be about H1N1, also known as swine flu? You may have heard -- and been frightened by -- the "plausible scenario" from the President's Council of Advisors on Science and Technology (PCAST) that 30 to 50 percent of the population could contract this flu, with up to 90,000 deaths possible. Already, experts estimate more than 1 million people in the United States have contracted the virus.
It's easy to freak amid the scary-sounding stats, but take a deep breath. Many experts think the worst case scenario outlined by PCAST is unlikely, and that swine flu is still pretty much acting like seasonal flu. "The southern hemisphere is completing their flu season, and the virus hasn't mutated to become more virulent and it's still susceptible to the drugs we have to treat it," says Neil Fishman, M.D., director of the department of healthcare epidemiology and infection control at the University of Pennsylvania Health System in Philadelphia.
There's a good chance more people will get infected, but the percentages of mortality should remain the same as in previous years," says Dr. Fishman. About 36,000 people die each year due to the regular flu. But the most encouraging news so far: An effective vaccine is on the way.
What's more, you're probably already doing everything you need to do to protect your family. "Parents should be aware of what public health officials are saying, and then just be extra vigilant about the precautions they'd normally take to prevent the spread of germs," says Joseph Bocchini, M.D., chair of the American Academy of Pediatrics committee on infectious diseases and pediatrics chair of the Louisiana State University Health Sciences Center in Shreveport. Number one on the list: washing hands more frequently. Read on for all information you need to know now.