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The Swine Flu Pandemic: What You Need to Know Now

You knew it was coming: The Swine Flu virus -- which health experts have renamed the H1N1 virus -- has now been declared a global pandemic by the World Health Organization. Sheesh...could anything be more scary? It sounds like the bubonic plague or some deadly disease out of the past. But it is SO NOT! It's really just THE FLU, and the vast majority of cases have been mild.

So all you moms out there take a deep breath. H1N1 looks like it's going to be around awhile, and it's surfacing everywhere (some students in my kids' school already have it), so we've got to keep cool, but arm ourselves with the latest information just in case. We've created this comprehensive panic-free guide to address your worries.

What a pandemic means to your family

A pandemic does not mean the severity of the flu is getting any worse, just that more people have it. Currently more than 70 countries are now reporting cases of H1N1 flu, but the World Health Organization (WHO) considers the overall severity to be moderate. Most people are recovering from H1N1 without the need for hospitalization or even medical care. And in spite of the freaky headlines about people dying, the level of more severe cases is pretty much the same as those that occur during the normal flu season. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) is no longer recommending that schools and childcare facilities close due to an outbreak of H1N1 (though in some locations that may become necessary). Read more about these guidelines from the CDC.

How to protect your family

The advice continues to be the same -- be especially vigilant about washing hands, both yours and your children's. Remember to have them sing "Happy Birthday" twice to make sure they soap up long enough. Cover your mouth when you cough or sneeze, then immediately throw the used tissue in the trash. Avoid touching your eyes, nose and mouth. If your kids are showing symptoms, keep them home from school. If you feel flu-ish, stay home from work. Call your doctor to see if you need to be tested. If your children are worried about getting H1N1, the CDC has some great advice for parents on talking to them about it.

Should we get the new vaccine?

The European drug maker Novartis announced today that it has successfully produced the first batch of experimental H1N1 flu vaccine. But don't rush to your doctor just yet. This first batch needs to go through some testing and evaluation. Once it is actually available for use in humans, it will likely be given to those who are most at risk first, and the WHO will be working to determine who the highest risk groups may be. Keep track of what's going on with the H1N1 vaccine.

Symptoms to watch for

The symptoms to look for are the same as for run-of-the-mill flu: fever, cough, sore throat, body aches, headache, chills and fatigue. Some people have reported diarrhea and vomiting as well. It might be hard to differentiate between allergy symptoms, which are at their peak right now. If you're not sure if it's allergies or something more, contact your doctor. You can read more about symptoms and treatment from the CDC.

What now?

You've probably been hearing that H1N1 may mutate and become more dangerous as it spreads, potentially causing the normal winter flu season to arrive earlier in the fall, or even as soon as late summer. Well, that could happen, so stay vigilant. Follow the latest news at And keep an eye on what's going on in Australia and South America, where it's winter right now, and the H1N1 flu is just beginning to spread.

More ways to keep your family healthy: