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Frequently Asked Questions

Should I purchase masks?

The answer is not as simple as you might think.

Seasonal influenza can be spread both by direct or indirect contact with small droplets in the air created when an infected person coughs or sneezes. Some droplets may travel only a few feet and land in the eyes, nose, or mouth of a nearby person. Others may remain suspended in the air for varying lengths of time and can be inhaled by persons at some distance from the infected person. It is likely that pandemic influenza will be spread in the same ways.

"Surgical" masks can help contain large droplets. However, they do not offer good protection from small particles that can pass around or through the mask and be inhaled. Since influenza virus may be spread by both large and small droplets, a special kind of mask called a respirator will offer better protection than a surgical mask.

However, respirators are not suitable for all people: They can be difficult to breathe through (particularly for people with respiratory disease), they do not seal properly to the faces of people with beards, and they are not currently made in children's sizes in this country. If you choose to purchase a respirator, it is important to choose one that fits well and seals tightly to the face. At this time, respirators are available in hardware stores and from online vendors.

Respirators are designed to filter small particles and to fit tightly to the face to reduce the chance of small particles going around the respirator and being inhaled by the wearer. Respirators labeled as "NIOSH-certified" N95, N99, or N100 offer protection against small particles, although no respirator can ever guarantee full protection. If a respirator is used, it should be used along with other infection control measures to reduce the chance of infection.

Should I buy my own supply of Tamiflu, or some other antiviral medication?

No. We are urging people not to do that, for a number of reasons.

  • There aren't enough antiviral drugs for everybody.
  • Some people won't need antivirals, and it is difficult to identify in advance those individuals who will need them most.
  • To help ensure that antivirals are available for those most in need, public health workers and healthcare providers must be in a position to manage available supplies of these drugs. That won't be possible if they are being stockpiled by private individuals.
  • Personal stockpiling may reduce available supplies of antivirals, making it harder to treat "seasonal" flu in the elderly, and others who face an immediate risk of serious illness and death from complications of the flu.
  • The shelf life of Tamiflu is only five years, and no one knows how long it may be before a pandemic occurs.

Is it safe to travel to areas H5N1 outbreaks in birds or humans?

Yes. CDC does not recommended that the general public avoid travel to any of the countries affected by H5N1, but it does recommend that travelers follow certain precautions.

If you are traveling to a country with avian influenza outbreaks, health experts recommend avoiding contact with live poultry, and carefully monitoring your health.