Sunday, July 26, 2009

NHS info on Swine Flu

If you feel unwell...

If you have flu-like symptoms and are concerned that you may have swine flu:

  • Stay at home and check your symptoms using the National Pandemic Flu Service.
  • Call your GP directly if: - you have a serious underlying illness, - you are pregnant, - you have a sick child under one year of age, - your condition suddenly gets much worse, - your condition is still getting worse after seven days (five for a child).

Note: the National Pandemic Flu Service is a new online service that will assess your symptoms and, if required, provide an authorisation number that can be used to collect antiviral medication from a local collection point. For those who do not have internet access, the same service can be accessed by telephone on:

  • Telephone: 0800 1 513 100
  • Minicom: 0800 1 513 200

For more information on the National Pandemic Flu Service go to Flu Service – Q&A.

Swine flu is the common name that has been given to a new strain of influenza. It is called swine flu because it is thought to have originated in pigs, but this is not known for certain.

The most common symptoms are fever, sore throat, diarrhoea, headache, feeling generally unwell and a dry cough – in other words, symptoms very similar to seasonal influenza. Most people recover within a week, even without special treatment.


The virus was first identified in Mexico in April and has since become a pandemic, which means it has spread around the globe. It has spread quickly because it is a new type of influenza virus that few, if any, people have full resistance to.

Flu pandemics are a natural event that occur from time to time. Last century, there were flu pandemics in 1918, 1957 and 1968, when millions of people died across the world.

So far the new virus is known to have infected more than 119,000 people worldwide. However, this figure is almost certainly a large underestimate because it reflects only those cases which have been confirmed by laboratory tests.

In the majority of cases the virus has proved relatively mild. However, more than 700 people have died globally and its 'risk profile' is still not fully understood. For this reason, and because all viruses can mutate to become more potent, scientists are advising caution.

The situation in the UK

There have been an estimated 55,000 cases in the UK since the outbreak started here on 27 April. Of these, over 600 have involved hospitalisation, and 31 people have died.

The UK formally moved from a 'containment' to a 'treatment' phase for swine flu on 2 July. This meant that intensive efforts to contain swine flu, via automatic school closures, for example, ended in order to free up capacity to treat the increasing numbers of people who are contracting swine flu daily.

As in other countries, the majority of cases reported so far in the UK have been mild. Only a small number have led to serious illness, and these have frequently been where patients have had underlying health problems.

There has been an argument put forward that government should restrict antivirals to those groups who are most at risk of developing serious complications from swine flu. In other words, if people are otherwise healthy, then the NHS should let the virus run its course, treating it with paracetamol and bed rest as you would normal flu.

However, the government's Scientific Advisory Group on Emergencies (SAGE) believes that there is still some doubt about the risk profile of the virus. For instance, there are reports of some cases in Argentina where young, healthy adults have apparently become extremely ill from swine flu.

While there is still this doubt, the government has decided to offer the antiviral medicines Tamiflu or Relenza to everyone confirmed with swine flu.

High-risk groups

Some people are more at risk of serious illness if they catch swine flu, and will need to start taking antivirals as soon as they are confirmed with the illness. On occasion, doctors may advise some high-risk patients to take antivirals before they have symptoms if someone close to them has swine flu.

The risk profile of the virus is still being studied but it is already known that the following people are particularly vulnerable:

  • people with: - chronic 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), and - diabetes mellitus,
  • patients who have had drug treatment for asthma in the past three years,
  • pregnant women,
  • people aged 65 years and older, and
  • children under five years old.

Swine flu vaccine

A vaccine to protect against swine flu is being developed but it is not available yet.

The first batches of vaccine are expected to arrive in the autumn, and 30 million double doses – enough for half the population – are expected to be available by the end of the year.

The government has ordered enough vaccine for the whole population and, when it becomes available, will focus on those at the greatest risk first.

Catch it, bin it, kill it

Although the UK has moved to a treatment phase for swine flu, it is important that people continue to do everything they can to stop the virus from spreading.

The key is to practise good respiratory and hand hygiene. In other words, remember to Catch it, Bin It, Kill It. Catch your sneeze in a tissue, place it quickly in a bin and wash your hands and surfaces regularly to kill the virus.

More on swine flu:

Flu Service - Q&A

Advice for pregnant women

Should we expect a more severe second wave of the pandemic in the winter?

Can my pet catch swine flu?

What can I do?

Who should be wearing a facemask?

Why does it take several months to produce a swine flu vaccine?

Does the current seasonal flu vaccine work?

Who will be a priority for vaccination with the H1N1 swine flu vaccine?

Is it safe to eat pig meat?

Will the vaccine still provide people with protection if the swine flu virus mutates between now and the autumn?

Last reviewed: 23/07/2009

Next review due: 23/07/2011

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