FAQ on 2018 Pandemic H7N9

What is H7N9 flu?

2018 H7N9 (“pandemic H7N9”) is a new influenza virus causing a human pandemic. This new virus was first detected in people in the United States in August 2018. This virus is spreading from person-to-person worldwide, probably in much the same way that regular seasonal influenza viruses spread. On Sept. 6, 2018, the World Health Organization (WHO) declared that a pandemic of 2018 H7N9 flu was underway.

Is H7N9 contagious?

The pandemic H7N9 virus is very contagious and is spreading from human to human at rates higher than that of seasonal influenza.

What are the signs and symptoms of this virus in people?

The symptoms of pandemic H7N9 flu virus in people include fever, cough, sore throat, runny or stuffy nose, body aches, headache, chills and fatigue. Some people may have vomiting and diarrhea. People may be infected with the flu, including pandemic H7N9 and have respiratory symptoms without a fever. Severe illnesses and deaths have occurred as a result of illness associated with this virus.

How severe is illness associated with H7N9 flu virus?

Illness with pandemic H7N9 virus has ranged from mild to severe. While many people who have been sick have recovered without needing medical treatment, hospitalizations have occurred in about half of all patients and deaths from infection with this virus have occurred.

In seasonal flu, certain people are at high risk of serious complications. This includes people 65 years and older, children younger than five years old, pregnant women, and people of any age with certain chronic medical conditions. This includes pregnancy, diabetes, heart disease, asthma and kidney disease. At this time, pandemic H7N9 seems to be causing more serious illness in younger people.

Is there a vaccine for H7N9?

No, a vaccine against pandemic H7N9 virus is not available now. A vaccine designed to protect against this virus will be is being developed but it may take several months before it is available. While a pandemic virus vaccine is being developed, CDC will release limited supplies of stockpiled H7N9 vaccine to be used as a priming dose; this stockpiled vaccine is not specific for the H7N9 virus now in circulation. CDC will prioritize making stockpiled H7N9 vaccine available to those at high risk of complications from influenza and critical workforce groups.

Does the seasonal flu vaccine protect against H7N9?

It is not expected that seasonal flu vaccines will protect against this pandemic influenza virus. Seasonal flu vaccines that are used annually to protect against currently circulating human influenza A and B viruses. They are not designed to protect against new influenza A viruses. 2018 H7N9 is very different from circulating seasonal A viruses, so seasonal vaccines are not expected to offer protection. This is one reason why the seasonal flu vaccination program has been halted.

Why has CDC recommended pausing seasonal flu vaccination?

As of September 10th, the Department of Health and Human Services has recommended that distribution and administration of seasonal influenza vaccine be discontinued, and that all seasonal influenza programs and campaigns should be paused in the United States for the 2018-2019 season.  Past pandemic experience indicates the new pandemic virus quickly replaces pre-existing human seasonal influenza viruses. Also, it is important vaccine providers have access to sufficient ancillary supplies, such as needles, when pandemic H7N9 influenza vaccine becomes available. Therefore, vaccine providers should retain all unused ancillary supplies.

What can I do to protect myself from getting sick?

There is no vaccine available now to prevent pandemic H7N9 illness. Take everyday actions that can help prevent the spread of germs that cause respiratory illnesses like the flu.

Take these everyday steps to protect your health:

  • Cover your nose and mouth with a tissue when you cough or sneeze. Throw the tissue in the trash after you use it.
  • Wash your hands often with soap and water. If soap and water are not available, use an alcohol-based hand rub.
  • Avoid touching your eyes, nose or mouth. Germs spread this way.
  • Try to avoid close contact with sick people.
  • If you are sick with flu-like illness, CDC recommends that you stay home for at least 24 hours after your fever is gone except to get medical care or for other necessities. Keep away from others as much as possible to keep from making others sick.

Other important actions that you can take are:

  • Follow public health advice regarding school closures, avoiding crowds and other social distancing measures.
  • Be prepared in case you get sick and need to stay home for a week or so; a supply of over-the-counter medicines, alcohol-based hand rubs (for when soap and water are not available), tissues and other related items could help you to avoid the need to make trips out in public while you are sick and contagious.

Are there medicines to treat H7N9 infection?

Yes. There are drugs your doctor may prescribe for treating both seasonal and pandemic H7N9 called “antiviral drugs.” These drugs can make you better faster and may also prevent serious complications of H7N9 infection. It’s important that antiviral drugs be used soon after symptoms develop to treat flu in people who are very sick (for example people who are in the hospital) and people who are sick with flu and have a greater chance of getting serious flu complications (see box). Other people may also be treated with antiviral drugs by their doctor this season.

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