What is swine flu?
Swine influenza is a disease in pigs. The virus currently spreading among people is now generally referred to as swine flu, although the origin of the disease is still under investigation.
Symptoms of swine flu
* a sudden fever (a high body temperature of 38°C/100.4°F or above), and
* a sudden cough.
Other symptoms may include:
* aching muscles,
* limb or joint pain,
* diarrhoea or stomach upset,
* sore throat,
* runny nose,
* sneezing, or
* loss of appetite.
For most people, swine flu is a mild illness. Some people get better by staying in bed, drinking plenty of water and taking over-the-counter flu medication. However, some groups of people are more at risk of serious illness if they catch swine flu, and will need to start taking antiviral medication as it is confirmed that they have it.
It is already known that you are particularly at risk if you have:
* chronic (long-term) lung disease,
* chronic heart disease,
* chronic kidney disease,
* chronic liver disease,
* chronic neurological disease (neurological disorders include motor neurone disease, multiple sclerosis and Parkinson's disease),
* immunosuppression (whether caused by disease or treatment) or
* diabetes mellitus.
Also at risk are:
* patients who have had drug treatment for asthma within the past three years,
* pregnant women,
* people aged 65 and older, and
* young children under five.
It is vital that people in these higher-risk groups who catch swine flu get antivirals and start taking them as soon as possible.
How long does the virus live on surfaces?
The flu virus can live on a hard surface for up to 24 hours, and a soft surface for around 20 minutes.
When are people most infectious?
People are most infectious to others soon after they develop symptoms, although they continue to shed the virus (for example, in coughs and sneezes) for up to five days (seven days in children). People become less infectious as their symptoms subside, and once their symptoms are gone they are no longer considered infectious to others.
How long are symptoms expected to last?
As with any sort of flu, how bad the symptoms are and how long they last will vary depending on treatment and individual circumstances.
How does swine flu cause death?
Like any other type of flu, people can die from swine flu if they develop complications, like pneumonia.
Is it possible to catch swine flu twice?
Yes, because the virus can mutate (change). If you become infected with the swine flu virus, your body produces antibodies against it, which will recognise and fight off the virus if the body ever meets it again. However, if the virus mutates, your immune system may not recognise this different strain and you may become ill again, although you may have some protection from having had a similar virus previously.
What can I do?
You can reduce, but not get rid of, the risk of catching or spreading swine flu by:
* Always covering your nose and mouth with a tissue when coughing or sneezing.
* Disposing of dirty tissues promptly and carefully.
* Maintaining good basic hygiene, for example washing hands often with soap and warm water to reduce the spread of the virus from your hands to face, or to other people.
* Cleaning hard surfaces, such as door handles, often and thoroughly using a normal cleaning product.
Are alcohol handrubs better than soap and water?
Both alcohol handrubs and washing with soap and water are important in minimising the risk of spreading swine flu, as they both deactivate the flu virus. Alcohol handrub can only be used on visibly clean hands. If hands are dirty, soap and water should be used. Handrubs are useful when there is no easy access to a place to wash and dry your hands.
Why shouldn't the general public wear facemasks?
Because there is no evidence to suggest that this is a useful preventative measure. The virus is spread by people touching infected surfaces, or by someone coughing or sneezing at very close range. So unless you are standing close to someone with the virus, wearing a facemask will not make a difference.
There are concerns about the risks of not using facemasks correctly. They must be changed regularly as they don't work as well when dampened by a person’s breath. People may infect themselves if they touch the outside of their mask, or may infect others by not throwing away old masks safely.
Finally, wearing a facemask may encourage complacency. People need to focus on good hand hygiene, staying at home if they are feeling unwell and covering their mouth when they cough or sneeze.
What do antivirals do?
Antivirals are not a cure, but they help you to recover by:
* relieving some of the symptoms,
* reducing the length of time you are ill by around one day, and
* reducing the potential for serious complications, such as pneumonia.
Are pregnant women more likely to catch swine flu?
Yes. Pregnant women are more susceptible to all infections, because their immune system is naturally suppressed in pregnancy. They are especially vulnerable to swine flu, as this virus is affecting younger age groups in particular.
Does swine flu pose special risks in pregnant women?
Most pregnant women with swine flu will only have mild symptoms like most other people with swine flu. However, pregnant women have an increased risk of complications from any type of flu, because their immune system is naturally supressed in pregnancy. Possible complications are pneumonia (an infection of the lungs), difficulty breathing and dehydration, which are more likely to happen in the second and third trimester.
There is a small chance that these complications will lead to premature labour or miscarriage. There is not yet enough information to know precisely how likely these birth risks are.
Should I stop breastfeeding if I need to take antiviral drugs?
Women who are breastfeeding can continue to do so while receiving antiviral treatment. If a mother is ill, she should continue breastfeeding and increase feeding frequency. If she becomes too ill to feed, then expressing milk may still be possible. Antiviral drugs are excreted into breast milk in very small (insignificant) amounts.
How do I tell if my child has swine flu?
Call your GP immediately if your child has any of the following symptoms and a temperature of 38°C or above or feels hot:
• runny nose and sneezing,
• sore throat,
• shortness of breath,
• loss of appetite,
• vomiting and diarrhoea, or
• aching muscles, limb and joint pain.
If you are worried about your child, always call your GP for advice. One thing you can do right now is to make sure you have a digital thermometer to take your child’s temperature with.
Can babies under the age of one take antivirals?
Tamiflu and Relenza are not licensed for use in babies under one. However, after evaluating all the available evidence, the European Medicines Agency has advised that babies may be treated with Tamiflu, considering that:
* the appropriate dosage to treat children aged under one is 2-3mg/kg twice daily for five days,
* children are preferably treated under medical supervision, and
* dilution of the capsule content can be used to prepare the dose.