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Swine Flu FAQs (Last Edited: 2009 Nov 30)

2009 July 2

Although this site is most concerned with migraine, persistent aura and a possibly related visualization problem, I want to add a post about swine flu.

I’m keeping this post under review and updating the information as I find it.

You can navigate this post from the links below:

Where can I find official advice? British and international readers may find useful links from this NHS article:

Readers in the UK can find more information at these websites. (I invite readers from other countries to comment to this post to give links to official websites in their own countries. I will read these and add them here.):

And phone numbers:

  • Swine flu information line on 0800 1 513 513
  • NHS Direct 0845 4647

If you have flu-like symptoms and live in the UK, you should first read this website: http://www.direct.gov.uk/en/groups/dg_digitalassets/@dg/@en/documents/digitalasset/dg_178842.htm This website has instructions on what to do next.

International readers can also get information from the WHO: http://www.who.int/csr/disease/swineflu/en/

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What is “swine flu”? Swine flu is a variant of the the H1N1 influenza “A” virus that causes flu symptoms[3]. It is called swine flu because it is normally found in pigs, but it is officially called H1N1 2009. But since community outbreaks in Mexico earlier in the year, it has spread by human-to-human contact in many countries[3]. The World Health Organization (WHO) has declared a pandemic of the virus[3][7]. At the moment outside of Mexico it has shown to be a mild form of the disease.

The symptoms of swine flu are the same as those of seasonal flu, and may include[1]:

  • Chills,
  • Fever,
  • Muscle aches,
  • Sever headache,
  • Sore throat,
  • Coughing,
  • Weakness,
  • Runny or blocked nose,
  • General discomfort.

Flu may also cause nausea and vomiting, especially in children[1].

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How will the pandemic progress? Experts are so far saying that the pandemic is progressing as predicted[2]. Though the government in the UK said they are concerned how fast it is spreading here.

Various reports have suggested swine flu could infect between 1 in 3 and 1 in 2 people over the winter season in the northern hemisphere[5][6]. Further waves of outbreaks may follow later[3]. The fear of health experts is that it may mutate or combine DNA with already more virulent strains of flu. This variant of H1N1 is considered unstable and more likely to take on genetic material from other flu viruses[3]. If this happens, the current mild form may become more deadly. The last H1N1 pandemic, so-called “Spanish flu”, of 1918 infected as many as one in three worldwide and killed between 10% and 20% of those infected[2]. But scientists say the 2009 variant does not show markers that suggest it may become more virulent[3]. However, on 27th November 2009, the BBC News website reported that World Health Organisation (WHO) figures over the last week showed that deaths from swine flu had “jumped by more than 1,000”. It also reported that two patients in two different cities in France had died from a mutation recently found in Norway. The mutation is reported to have a greater ability to infect the lungs. The virus in one of the patients also held a mutation that gave it resistance to Tamiflu, the main anti-viral drug used to protect against swine flu. But Dr. Fukuda, WHO’s special advisor on pandemic influenza, said it was too early to say whether there is a fundamental change in the virus population and whether it is more likely to become severe. He also said mutations are common in the influenza virus[11].

Unlike normal flu, pandemic flu tends to affect healthy young adults more seriously than the very young or old. It is not known why, but it is believed this is partly because the elderly have some immunity from previously coming into contact with H1N1 flu[2].

A vaccine has now been produced and a programme of immunisation has begun in many countries, including the UK. However, on November 20 2009, reported by BBC News Online, a new Tamiflu resistant strain of H1N1 2009 (“swine flu”) has emerged in the University Hospital of Wales, Cardiff: Spread of Tamiflu resistant swine flu confirmed.

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Should I or my children catch it now while it is mild? No. Even mild flu carries a risk of complication[1]. It is especially dangerous if you have an underlying medical condition. It also increases the rate at which the virus spreads in the community if you pass it on.

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How can I best protect myself against the disease? Flu is passed through the air by coughing and sneezing, and on hard surfaces, where it can survive for some time[1]. Frequent hand-washing can reduce the risk of catching the disease[1]. But realistically, you should prepare for catching it. Again, each country may have its own provisions. In the UK the government recommends building a network of local “flu friends”[9]. These are neighbours, family members and friends with whom you have a mutual agreement to deliver food, drink and medicines to the door of anyone who becomes ill. This may be especially important when it comes to delivery of anti-viral drugs.

It is best to make plans now, as the pandemic is gathering pace.

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Should I buy anti-virals online? No. You should never buy drugs online because you cannot be certain that what you are buying is genuine[10].

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What should I do if I think I have swine flu? Each country has its own provisions. You should check your national health websites, government website or local healthcare centre websites. Or phone your local health agency for advice. The important thing to do is consider others and try to prevent infecting them. You may need to quarantine yourself at home.

You should not visit your doctor. If you do, you risk infecting others. Instead, you should call your doctor by telephone.

If you have flu-like symptoms and live in the UK, you should first read this website: http://www.direct.gov.uk/en/groups/dg_digitalassets/@dg/@en/documents/digitalasset/dg_178842.htm This website has instructions on what to do next.

International readers can also get information from the WHO: http://www.who.int/csr/disease/swineflu/en/

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Will services be disrupted by swine flu? It is possible, especially during the northern hemisphere winter season[6]. But it may begin earlier. With predictions of between 1 in 3 and 1 in 2 people getting the disease[5][6], there may be serious disruption to a wide range of services. Even if you do not fall ill yourself, you may be affected by loss of services such as fuel and food distribution. If you plan ahead now, you can stock up with emergency supplies of tinned food, extra prescription medicines and bottled water to avoid being caught out later. It is not a good idea to store fuel (which may be illegal anyway), as this carries a risk of fire or explosion. But you should consider keeping any vehicle tanks full. The same goes if you have oil tanks for heating.

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Sources

[1] http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Flu
[2] http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Spanish_flu
[3] http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/2009_flu_pandemic
[4] http://www.independent.co.uk/life-style/health-and-families/health-news/100000-fresh-swine-flu-cases-a-day-by-august-says-health-secretary-1729612.html
[5] http://news.bbc.co.uk/1/hi/england/west_midlands/8116110.stm
[6] http://www.independent.co.uk/life-style/health-and-families/health-news/swine-flu-could-infect-up-to-half-the-population-1711552.html
[7] http://www.who.int/mediacentre/news/statements/2009/h1n1_pandemic_phase6_20090611/en/index.html
[8] http://news.bbc.co.uk/1/hi/world/americas/8122262.stm
[9] http://www.direct.gov.uk/en/Swineflu/DG_177831?IdcService=GET_FILE&dID=194088&Rendition=Web
[10] http://news.bbc.co.uk/go/rss/-/1/hi/health/8131911.stm
[11] 11

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