What is swine flu?
Flu is an illness caused by an infection of the influenza virus. The flu virus constantly changes and there are many different strains of flu. Find out the differences between swine flu, pandemic flu, and ordinary flu.
A new strain of Influenza A (H1N1), also known as swine flu, was confirmed in the UK in April and has spread to more than 100 countries around the world.
Although symptoms have generally proved mild, a small number of patients will develop more serious illness. Many of these people have other underlying health conditions, such as heart or lung disease, that put them at increased risk.
What are the symptoms?
Flu symptoms can include: fever cough headache weakness and fatigue aching muscles and joints sore throat runny nose As with any sort of influenza, how bad and how long the symptoms last will depend on treatment and the patient’s individual circumstances.
Most cases reported in the UK have been relatively mild, with those affected starting to recover within a week.
How can I be sure?
Use the NHS flu checker:
Who is at risk?
Some groups of people are more at risk of serious illness if they catch swine flu. It is vital that people in these higher risk groups get anti-viral drugs and start taking them as soon as possible – within 48 hours of the onset of symptoms.
Health authorities are still learning about the swine flu virus, but the following people are known to be at higher risk: pregnant women people aged 65 years and older young children under five years old People suffering from the following illnesses are also at increased risk: chronic lung disease chronic heart disease chronic kidney disease chronic liver disease chronic neurological disease Immunosuppression (whether caused by disease or treatment) Diabetes mellitus patients who have had drug treatment for asthma within the past three years
What is an epidemic and a pandemic?
An epidemic is a sudden outbreak of disease that spreads through a single population or region in a short amount of time.
A pandemic occurs when there is a rapidly-spreading epidemic of a disease that affects most countries and regions of the world.
Swine flu is now a pandemic. Pandemic flu occurs when an influenza virus emerges that is so different from previously circulating strains that few, if any, people have any immunity to it. This allows it to spread widely and rapidly, causing serious illness.
Ordinary flu and pandemic flu - the differences Ordinary flu: occurs every year during the winter affects 10 to 15 per cent of the UK popuation most people recover within 1 or 2 weeks without medical treatment can be identified in advance and a vaccine can be made (this immunisation is known as the flu jab and helps protect people from ordinary flu) Pandemic flu: occurs during any season affects more people than ordinary flu (up to half the population) is a more serious infection people of all ages may be at risk of infection a vaccine cannot be made because the virus strain has not been identifed antiviral medicine is stockpiled to treat people
How does it spread?
There are a number of steps you can take to reduce the risk of getting flu and help stop the spread of the virus.
To reduce the risk of catching or spreading the virus you should: cover your mouth and nose when coughing and sneezing, using a tissue throw the tissue away quickly and carefully wash your hands regularly with soap and water clean hard surfaces (like door handles and remote controls) frequently with a normal cleaning product.
The Government says 65,000 people could die, is that true?
No one knows for certain. The NHS uses different scenarios to prepare for pandemic flu.
In the worst case scenario - of a bird-flu virus that transmits quickly - it reckons up to 750,000 people will die.
In the best case scenario - a relatively mild illness that's slow to spread - around 3,000 people will lose their lives.
The 65,000 figure is based on a number of assumptions: that 30% of the population will catch it and that around three in every 1,000 victims will die. Those figures could, of course, change.
Although 29 people have known to have died in the UK that has to be set against more than 70,000 suspected cases of swine flu so far.
Is there a vaccine?
Not yet. As swine flu is a new virus, a new vaccine had to be developed to deal with it.
The first batch of the vaccine is expected to be available by August, with 60 million doses of the swine flu vaccine expected to be available by the end of the year.
The government has ordered enough vaccine for the whole population, but to reduce the impact of swine flu those at greatest risk will be given priority.
In addition, we will be encouraging people in high risk groups to take up the seasonal flu vaccine again this year as we have done in previous winters.
Who will be eligible for the vaccine first? Does the current seasonal vaccine work? How will people go about getting the swine flu vaccine - will letters be sent out by GPs?
Plans are currently being developed for when and how the new vaccine for swine flu will be made available from the autumn onwards.
How does swine flu cause death? Can you catch the disease twice?
Like any other type of flu, people can die from swine flu if they develop complications, like pneumonia.
It is possible to catch swine flu twice 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 encounters 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 'cross protection' due to encountering a similar virus previously.
What about anti-viral drugs?
Anti-viral drugs Anti-viral drugs work by preventing the flu virus from reproducing - to be effective you need to take them within 48 hours of the onset of symptoms. This means the illness may be shortened by a day and reduce the risk of complications. Read the section above, ‘if you have the flu’ before contacting your doctor about anti-viral drugs.
Should I go to work or school if I have been in contact with someone who I know has swine flu?
Yes, there is no need to stay off work or school unless you have symptoms of the virus yourself. If you develop symptoms please follow the steps advised.
You can reduce the risk of catching or spreading swine flu by:
* Always covering your nose and mouth with a tissue when coughing or sneezing.
* Throwing away the tissue straight away.
* Maintaining good basic hygiene, for example washing hands thoroughly with soap and warm water.
Is it as bad as people say or is a lot of it speculation?
The majority of people with swine flu in the UK have experienced mild symptoms and have made a full recovery, although there have been a small number of more serious cases. There is enough stock of antiviral to treat everyone in the north east if we need to. If you are worried and have symptoms please follow the advice given above.
A lot of teachers are being affected, so does this mean we should be avoiding children so we don't risk passing the infection on?
There is no need to stay off work or school unless you have symptoms of the virus. In which case, please follow the steps advised.
I've heard that in Singapore all the shops have antibacterial handwash in their doorways. Does this mean that hygiene is the most important thing?
Absolutely, hygiene is crucial to prevent the spread of the virus and you should follow the steps advised above.
I feel ill, what should I do?
If you think you have swine flu, check your symptoms online using the NHS flu symptom checker or call the Swine Flu information line on 0800 1 513 513.
If you still think you may have swine flu, call your local GP - do not go to the GPs surgery or hospital in person.
Contact your doctor Your local GP will be able to tell you if you have swine flu over the phone.
If they say you have swine flu they will give you a voucher number which your Flu Friend (the person caring for you) can use to pick up anti-viral drugs from the local collection centre. This may be a local pharmacy or community centre.
If you are still concerned, you can call NHS Direct on 0845 4647 in England.