I think i have Swine Flu - what do i do?

Swine influenza, otherwise known as influenza A H1N1, is a respiratory disease that normally occurs in pigs, however human cases can happen. This strain of swine influenza contains a mixture of genetic material that is typical to several known strains of flu viruses. Because it is a new strain, very few people will have immunity to it, allowing it to spread very quickly with the potential to become a pandemic.

As of 4th June 2009, 66 countries have officially reported 19,273 cases of Swine influenza. The United Kingdom have had 339 confirmed cases since the outbreak of Swine flu.

The severity of Swine influenza can be reduced using antiviral medication. Antiviral drugs work by relieving some of the symptoms, reduce the length of time you are ill by around one day and reduce the potential for serious complications like pneumonia. Antiviral drugs can also be given to close contacts of confirmed cases of swine influenza.

There are many different types of influenza virus, from seasonal influenza (winter flu) right through to pandemic influenza. The key differences between them are that seasonal influenza normally peaks between December and March every year in the UK, while pandemic influenza can occur at any time of the year. Pandemic influenza occurs when a new virus occurs that is capable of spreading across a population.

If you feel unwell ...

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

  • Check your symptoms using the NHS Direct swine flu symptom checker
  • Or call the Swine Flu information line on 0800 1 513 513
  • If you are still concerned, stay at home and call your GP, who will be able to provide a diagnosis over the phone.
  • If swine flu is confirmed, ask a healthy friend or relative to visit your GP to pick up a document entitling you to antiviral medication.
  • They will then need to pick the medication up at a collection point your GP will advise on (a local pharmacy or similar).
  • In the meantime, take paracetamol-based cold remedies to reduce fever and other symptoms, drink plenty of fluids and get lots of rest.

How do I recognise Swine influenza?

There are certain criteria that differentiate Swine influenza from seasonal influenza. If you have travelled to an area where there is sustained human-to-human transmission is occurring (Mexico or the United States), you have been in close contact with a confirmed case as well as showing 2 or more of the following symptoms:

  • Temperature >38°c OR history of a flu-like illness
  • Sore throat? 
  • Cough
  • Runny nose
  • Limb/joint pain
  • Headache
  • Diarrhoea / vomiting

If you think you meet all the criteria as described above, stay at home and contact either your GP or NHS Direct for advice www.nhsdirect.nhs.uk Tel: 0845 4647 or Swine Flu advice line: 0800 1 513 513.

How does it spread?

Swine influenza spreads exactly the same way as normal coughs or colds. It is made up of tiny particles that can be spread through the droplets released from the mouth and nose when someone coughs or sneezes.

If you cough or sneeze and do not cover your mouth and nose, the droplets can spread over everything within around a 1 metre radius. Even if someone sneezes into their hand, those droplets and the virus within them are easily transferred to any surface that the person touches. The virus can survive for several hours on door handles, keyboards, phones, hand rails etc. If you touch these surfaces and then touch your face, the virus can enter your system and you can become infected.

People are most infectious soon after they develop symptoms, but they can continue to spread the virus for up to five days after the start of symptoms.

What measures can I take against infection?

The influenza virus is very easy to kill; simple practices can have a big effect on reducing the transmission of the virus. The main precautions to observe are:

  • Cover your mouth and nose when you sneeze
  • Dispose of dirty tissues into a bin straight away
  • Maintain good basic hygiene – wash hands frequently with soap and water
  • Clean all hard surfaces regularly with normal cleaning products
  • Ensure your children follow this advice

Hand Hygiene

Good hand hygiene and environmental cleaning is essential in preventing the spread of the influenza virus. Hand washing should be performed at certain times, for example:

  • Before eating and drinking
  • After using the toilet
  • When hands are visibly dirty

Hand washing should be undertaken with liquid soap on all the above occasions. If you are not near a sink or have no access to soap, alcohol hand gel is an acceptable alternative to disinfect visibly clean hands. There is no limit to the number of times alcohol hand gel can be used between washes, providing your hands are visible clean. Also, ensure all hard surfaces (work surfaces, door handles etc) are regularly wiped down with standard cleaning products.

Should I wear a mask?

If you are not ill, you do not have to wear a mask. It is essential that you use a mask correctly in all situations. Incorrect use has been proven to increase the chance of spreading infection.

If you are caring for someone who has the virus, you can wear a mask when you are in close contact with the ill person. Once you have finished with it, dispose of it immediately and wash your hands with soap and water straight away.

If you are ill yourself and need to travel or be around others, ensure your mouth and nose are fully covered to prevent spreading droplets into the environment around you. 

Should I go to work if I have the flu but am feeling OK?

No. Whether you have Swine influenza or a seasonal influenza, you should stay at home and away from work through the duration of your symptoms. This is a precaution that can protect your work colleagues and others from becoming infected.

Further reading.

Further information around Swine influenza can be found on the following websites:

www.hpa.org.uk

www.who. int/en/

www.nhsdirect.nhs.uk

www.dh.gov.uk

www.nhs.uk/Pages/homepage.aspx www.fco.gov.uk/en/travelling-and-living-overseas/swine-flu