The state will distribute vaccines to county and city health departments beginning Monday, and schoolchildren will be among the first to get them. Vaccination will be voluntary, though officials are anticipating high demand. Not everyone will be able to get a shot or nasal spray next week, but there should be supplies available over the next couple of weeks. In general, first in line in the state will be students up to 24 years old, health care workers, pregnant women, those caring for an infant and those older than 24 with medical conditions such as asthma, diabetes or heart disease. The general population is advised to get vaccinated in later rounds through their doctors or local health clinics. There is no cost for the vaccine, though doctors are likely to charge a fee.

Everyone is also advised to get a seasonal flu vaccine, which is available now.

Health officials and doctors do not know why some children contract harsher cases of the flu and why it kills some of those who are healthy. Most cases of H1N1 and seasonal flu can be treated at home, said Dr. James King, a professor of pediatrics at the University of Maryland School of Medicine.

Symptoms include fever, sore throat and aches. He recommends fluids and over-the-counter fever medicine such as Tylenol. He said those who are sick need seek medical attention only if they have another medical condition or if their symptoms worsen to include trouble breathing, lack of responsiveness or discoloration of the skin.

King and Phillips said parents of children who have underlying medical conditions could call their pediatricians now for guidance on what to do in the event of illness.

"I know there is a lot of worry and fear of swine flu because it's different," King said. "It's important to remember a small percentage end up with a more severe case. Most can be treated at home. We can't predict who will get a bad case, and that's why the recommendation is to get a shot for every child."

•Schools, hospitals and doctors' offices will be providing swine flu vaccines as early as next week.

•Supplies will come over the next few weeks for youths 6 to 24, health care workers, pregnant women, caretakers of infants and those older than 24 with underlying medical conditions.

•The general population will be able to get the vaccine after these groups through their private doctors and health clinics.

To avoid the flu: Wash your hands often, cover your mouth when you cough or sneeze with a tissue or your sleeve. Wipe common areas such as door handles, phones and keyboards frequently.

If you have the flu: Expect fever, cough, sore throat, chills, headache, fatigue, vomiting, diarrhea or shortness of breath.

Stay home and do not return to school or work until you have been fever-free for 24 hours without medication.

Seek medical help if: children have serious underlying health conditions and have flu symptoms; have bluish skin color for fair tones and grayish skin color for darker tones; aren't drinking enough fluids; are so irritable that they don't want to be held; have a fever with a rash; or have symptoms that improve but then return with fever and worse cough. Adults should see a doctor if they have difficulty breathing or pain in the chest or abdomen; sudden dizziness or confusion; or severe or persistent vomiting.