This month Dr Dyer gives advice on Swine Flu
What is swine flu and how is it different from ordinary flu?
Swine flu is a respiratory virus, which has some elements of a virus found in pigs. Pandemic flu is different from ordinary flu because it’s a new flu virus that appears in humans and spreads very quickly from person to person worldwide.
The World Health Organisation (WHO) has announced a pandemic. This does not mean the flu itself has changed or poses any more of a threat, just that the human-to-human spread of flu has now become widespread across two regions of the world. The localised cases of swine flu found in the UK have so far experienced mild symptoms and make a rapid and full recovery. A very small number have been more severe – this is the case with seasonal flu.
Have we planned for this?
Plans for a flu pandemic have been in place for some time at Heart of England and these plans are tested on a regular basis. The NHS has also been planning how to manage a pandemic and has been commended by WHO for being one of the best prepared countries in the world.
What are the symptoms?
The symptoms of swine flu are similar to the symptoms of seasonal flu and include fever, fatigue, lack of appetite, coughing and sore throat. Some people with swine flu have also reported vomiting and diarrhoea.
How does it spread?
People are not infectious when they are incubating flu, only when they have flu symptoms, which includes a temperature of 38 degrees or more and 2 other flu-like symptoms.
Flu viruses are made up of tiny particles spread through the droplets that come out of your nose and mouth when you cough or sneeze. If you cough or sneeze without covering your nose and mouth with a tissue, those droplets can spread and others will be at risk of breathing them in.
If you cough or sneeze into your hand, those droplets are then easily spread from your hand to any hard surfaces that you touch, and they can live on those surfaces for some time. If others touch these surfaces and then their faces, the germs can enter their systems and they can become infected. That’s how all cold and flu viruses, including swine flu, are passed on from person to person.
What precautions should I take?
General infection control practices and good respiratory hand hygiene can help to reduce transmission of all viruses. These include:
– Covering your nose and mouth when coughing or sneezing, using a tissue when possible.
– Disposing of dirty tissues promptly and carefully.
– Maintaining good basic hygiene, for example washing hands frequently with soap and water to reduce the spread of the virus from your hands to face or to other people.
– Cleaning hard surfaces (e.g. door handles) frequently using a normal cleaning product.
– Making sure your children follow this advice.
What should I do if I suspect I have swine flu?
Stay at home; check your symptoms on the NHS Choices website www.nhs.uk if possible. Call your GP or NHS Direct on 0845 46 47. They will give you advice on your symptoms and the next steps you should take.
You do not need to visit A&E.
What treatment is available?
Testing has shown that the swine flu can be treated with antivirals. However, most cases have recovered fully without requiring medical attention or antiviral medicines. The best treatment is to rest and drink plenty of water. Avoid alcohol or smoking and take paracetamol or ibuprofen if you have a headache but check with your pharmacist before taking these if you are on any other medication.
Can family members of a confirmed case go to work or go out socially?
Anyone who is not symptomatic can continue their usual activities. You should ensure that you take any preventative prescribed medicines and that you complete the course of treatment.
Useful links and contacts
NHS Direct 0845 46 47
Swine Flu Information line 0800 1 513 513.