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Advice on swine flu
Swine Flu – Facts
Should I worry about this flu?
That depends on two things: how severe the flu is, and how far it spreads. Its severity is still unknown. Those who died in Mexico were young adults who don't often die of flu, so we know this virus can be serious. But it isn't always bad: the cases picked up in the US were mild. Outbreak investigators are now trying to find out how many people have had the virus, and how many of those were seriously ill, to get an idea of how bad it is. To get it you have to have contact with someone who either has just come back from Mexico or has been in contact with someone, who has had contact.
Will it spread to where I live?
That depends on two things: whether the virus is transported to where you live, and how efficiently it spreads between people. So many people travel globally now that, as long as this virus keeps infecting people, it is likely to get to where you live. Some countries are already using infrared cameras to spot people with fevers on flights from affected areas. But that won't stop it entirely, since five days can pass before an infected person shows symptoms, and the virus can spread before symptoms start.
The question is how efficiently it spreads once it lands. From the number of cases in Mexico and the fact that those infected in the US had not contacted pigs or each other, we know that it can spread from human to human, and has done so for weeks at least. Investigators are testing whether people who contacted known cases were also infected to try to assess how easily it spreads.
Similar swine flu viruses have jumped from pigs to people before and have always petered out without causing a pandemic because they were not good enough at spreading in people. This virus may do the same thing.
Does this virus mean I shouldn't eat pork?
No. This virus is named swine flu because one of its surface proteins is most similar to viruses that usually infect pigs. But we've never seen this particular virus in pigs before. It is spreading in people; that's the problem.
Can I travel to other countries?
Yes. There are no official travel advisories against going to affected regions other than Mexico, but cases of this virus are being discovered in other countries in people who recently visited there.
What if it causes a pandemic?
Most countries in the world have pandemic plans, on paper at least. They can respond with vaccines, drugs, and measures called "social distancing", aimed at limiting human contacts that spread flu. Mexico has already done this, by banning public gatherings and closing schools in affected areas. Modelling suggests this can be effective.
The Mexican swine flu virus is susceptible to the most widely stockpiled flu antiviral drugs, Tamiflu and its relatives. But viruses of the same family can readily develop resistance to these drugs, so no one knows how long the drugs will remain effective.
Because of fears that H5N1 bird flu would go pandemic, vaccine companies and regulators, especially in Europe, have developed procedures over the past few years for rapidly approving and manufacturing pandemic vaccines in factories that normally make regular human flu vaccines.
Why are we worried this virus could go pandemic?
Because it is new. Flu constantly evolves, mostly with small changes to its surface proteins. There are usually enough differences between this year's flu and whatever you had last time to allow the new virus to evade your immune defenses and cause an infection, but its similarities to your last case mean you still have partial immunity to it.
But flu surface proteins come in 16 different families, and viruses interbreed and swap genes. Occasionally a new flu virus that has picked up completely new surface proteins from pig or bird flu viruses circulates in people. Since no humans have been exposed to it before, no one has any immunity. Those viruses cause pandemics.
If you have returned from a country affected by swine flu OR come into
contact with someone who has
Whenever you need health advice and information you can ring NHS Direct on 0845 4647
Symptoms of swine influenza are similar to those of seasonal influenza, usually a feverish illness accompanied by one
or more of cough, sore throat, headache and muscle aches. For most people this illness appears to be mild. Infection
with this virus is treatable with anti-viral drugs. At this stage stay at home and treat as any other Flu.
If you have recently visited one of the countries or areas where human cases of influenza have been identified, it is
important for you to monitor your health closely for seven days after your visit to the affected area. There is no need
for you to isolate yourself from other people as long as you remain well. If during this period you develop a feverish illness accompanied by one or more of cough, sore throat,
headache and muscle aches, you should contact your GP by phone or seek advice from NHS Direct (0845
You should make sure that you tell those from whom you are seeking advice about your recent travel to an area
affected. Depending on your symptoms you may be advised that further investigations may be necessary. You should
avoid crowds and built up areas where crowds may be
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