One of the questions I have received via numerous emails is “should I try and get the H1N1 now so that when it comes back in the fall, I will have some partial protection?” Now that might sound like an odd question at first, but it has merit to explore.
Should we try and catch H1N1 now?
I consulted Vincent Racaniello, Ph.D. a well-known virologist who writes a fascinating blog on virology. I asked Dr. Racaniello, “Should we try to catch H1N1 now to build antibodies?” His reply to me was: “Yes, if you contract the new H1N1 virus now, it should confer some protection against a fall return of the virus. It might not fully protect, depending on how much the virus varies by the fall, but it should at least makes the symptoms much milder.”
The downside? There is one obvious downside (and there are likely more)…you might be one of those persons who develop a serious case of the illness that results in a significant respiratory infection and subsequent complications.
Should you plan a H1N1 flu party?
This question has generated some real energy on the web and it has prompted the CDC to issue a formal response to the question: What is CDC’s recommendation regarding “swine flu parties”? The formal response can be found in “H1N1 Flu (Swine Flu) and You” issued May 8, 2009.
“Swine flu parties” are gatherings during which people have close contact with a person who has novel H1N1 flu in order to become infected with the virus. The intent of these parties is to become infected with what for many people has been a mild disease, in the hope of having natural immunity to the novel H1N1 flu virus that might circulate later and cause more severe disease. CDC does not recommend “swine flu parties” as a way to protect against novel H1N1 flu in the future. While the disease seen in the current novel H1N1 flu outbreak has been mild for many people, it has been severe and even fatal for others. There is no way to predict with certainty what the outcome will be for an individual or, equally important, for others to whom the intentionally infected person may spread the virus.
CDC recommends that people with novel H1N1 flu avoid contact with others as much as possible. They should stay home from work or school for 7 days after the onset of illness or until at least 24 hours after symptoms have resolved, whichever is longer. http://www.cdc.gov/h1n1flu/qa.htm
CDC issues the following footnote to this guidance: “Much of the information in this document is based on studies and past experience with seasonal (human) influenza. CDC believes the information applies to the new H1N1 (swine) viruses as well, but studies on this virus are ongoing to learn more about its characteristics. This document will be updated as new information becomes available.”
What Should You Do?
As you can see, there are differing opinions about whether or not you should pursue an H1N1 infection now for the hope of offering you some protection in the future. If you are keen on acquiring H1N1 now, I would recommend you speak with your primary physician before chasing down the bug. Certainly individuals who have a preexisting condition that would make acquiring the illness more dangerous (asthma, emphysema, chronic obstructive pulmonary disease, etc.) should exercise caution. How might you go about acquiring H1N1? One photo that has circumnavigated the globe, shows us one possible way to go about exposing oneself to the virus.