Swine flu is the latest flu virus, however, there is a lot you can do to prevent catching it in the first place, and also a lot you can do to prepare for looking after yourself if you do catch it.
The key point is to know about it and be prepared. Currently, swine flu appears to be a mild form of flu and is mainly of concern to people with an existing medical problem which makes them already sensitive to any infection. It should not be underestimated as it is an H1N1 strain similar to the Spanish Flu, which was very serious.
What Is Swine Flu?
The 2009 swine flu pandemic is caused by a virus related to the pig flu virus found in North America.
It has now been found to have parts from the pig, bird, and human flu virus, which has now combined and changed in such a way that it can now be passed from person to person.
Such changes in the human flu virus are common and happen every few years. This virus is an H1N1 variety which showed many similarities to a flu virus found in North American pigs, however further research has shown that this is a completely new strain of flu virus.
Because each strain of virus produces its own immune response previous human flu viruses have not given immunity to this strain, and so whoever catches it will have not natural immunity to it. It has not been found in the pig population of the UK, and pigs and pork in the UK are not transmitting the human form of swine flu.
The big worry is that this virus is remarkably similar to the Spanish flu virus of 1918 which is estimated to have killed between 50 to 100 million people worldwide, which was a greater death toll than the First World War.
The virus spread worldwide very quickly and reached pandemic proportions only five weeks after being first identified. This rang all the alarm bells in the world health community, and health plans were put in place at great speed, and with some alarm.
Symptoms of Swine Flu
If you or a member of your family has any of the following symptoms and a temperature of 38°C or above, you may have swine flu.
The typical symptoms are:
- a sudden fever (a high body temperature of 38°C/100.4°F or above), and
- a sudden cough.
Other symptoms may include:
headache, tiredness, chills, aching muscles, limb or joint pain, vomiting, diarrhea, sore throat, runny nose, sneezing, or loss of appetite.
How To Minimise Your Chances Of Catching Swine Flu?
We all have to live our lives, even in a flu outbreak, and this exposes us to the risk of catching it every day we come into contact with other people. However, there are everyday things you can do to minimize catching swine flu.
Practice good hygiene. A common way of catching flu is to touch a surface with the virus on it, and then touch your nose or eye which transfers the virus to a mucus surface where it can multiply and grow and infect you. The flu virus is sneezed out in minute mucus droplets when someone has flu, and these can be breathed in from the air or they land on surfaces that then become sources of infection.
People with flu also get the virus on their hands when they sneeze into their hands and anything they then touch becomes infectious. Always sneeze into a tissue and wash your hands in soap and water after sneezing. So:
Use a tissue to cover your mouth when you cough or sneeze and bin it straight away. Never put it in your pocket or on any surface.
Wash your hands regularly with soap and water, especially after sneezing, or disposing of used tissues.
Clean surfaces regularly to remove germs e.g., telephones, keyboards, and computer mice, door handles, bins.
Avoid touching your face with your hands.
People with swine flu can pass on the virus while they have symptoms, which is usually for about five days. They are at their most infectious soon after the symptoms start and become less infectious as the symptoms subside.
The incubation period for swine flu is variable, so you can’t fully predict when you might get it after being in contact with someone. It can be up to seven days, with two to five days being usual.
There are some things you can do to prepare for the eventuality of you, or one of your family, catching swine flu. It is sensible to have a medical thermometer handy and medicine to reduce your temperature and ease the flu symptoms.
We have whole sections on Medicines For Flu and Medical Thermometers, but here are some suggestions:
What to Do If You Think You Have Swine Flu
If you think you have swine flu your first port of call is the NHS Choices website which gives the latest information about what to do. It is recommended that you do not visit your GP, as this will only spread the virus to other people.
Arrange for someone else to get the things you need while you have the flu, such as food, medicines, and prescriptions. If you are on your own ask someone to be your ‘flu friend’ so that they can help if you are ill and phone them.
Using your favourite flu medicine can ease the symptoms of swine flu and make you feel more comfortable. Be careful if you take more than one medicine, not to overdose on ingredients that may be in different preparations, e.g., paracetamol.
Complementary therapies to use if you have flu have caused a lot of interest lately. Many unsubstantiated claims have been made, which can’t be supported by evidence.
However, some products do seem to have support from some medical experts, though they are not used in most health systems.
Antioxidant Vitamins A, C & E are essential for recovery from swine flu. They are essential for the functioning of the immune system, which is the body’s way of fighting the swine flu virus.
You can increase your levels of antioxidants either by taking supplements, or by eating a diet rich in green leafy vegetables, broccoli, carrots, oranges, sweet potatoes, and nuts and seeds. These antioxidant vitamins also protect the lungs from the M2 protein that’s found in every flu virus. This protein stops the lungs from clearing out the liquid, and this paves the way for pneumonia and other lung problems.
It isn’t usually flu itself, which is fatal but these secondary infections, and so any way of preventing these secondary infections makes flu less dangerous.
Vitamin D is a widely supported complementary therapy for swine flu, taken at a higher than normal dose for a short time. Vitamin D levels decrease in the winter because Vitamin D is made from the action of sunlight on Vitamin A in the skin.
Vitamin D is an essential part of the trigger mechanism of our immune system which not only triggers a reaction to invading viruses and bacteria but also stops the immune system from overreacting. Many published research studies have shown that lower levels of Vitamin D3 in the winter reduces our immune response and make us more susceptible to cold flu viruses.
Supplementing with a high dose of Vitamin D3 for a short time has been recommended as a way of fighting off a cold or flu infection.
The Antiviral Drugs – Tamiflu & Relenza
Tamiflu and Relenza are antiviral drugs that can reduce the length of time you are ill with flu by about one day. They can also reduce the severity of the symptoms and the potential for serious complications, such as pneumonia.
The government has stockpiled a huge amount of these medicines and is organising its distribution through local centres throughout the country. As swine flu is usually a fairly minor and self-limiting illness for most people these antivirals are not normally needed unless you are very ill, in poor health, or suffering from other serious medical conditions.
They must be used within the first 48 hours of flu symptoms starting, or they will have no effect. Unfortunately, they can cause side effects in some people.
The government is warning everyone not to buy these prescription-only medicines over the Internet as there are a lot of counterfeit products being sold.
There is concern amongst some medical experts about the use of Tamiflu and Relenza.
There is an argument that the high expense of these drugs is not justified as they only reduce the length of flu symptoms by about one day, so is it worth doing in otherwise healthy people as they can cause side effects? Current strains of flu are also becoming resistant to Tamiflu so that it doesn’t work to reduce flu symptoms but can still cause side-effects.
The overall safety profile of using these drugs to prevent flu in healthy individuals when there are no symptoms present has also been brought into question.
Production and authorisation of flu vaccine have been rushed through for the winter season. The Government is recommending vaccination for everyone in a medical risk group. However, this vaccine has been designed for the current mild strain of swine flu and will not necessarily be effective against any more virulent strains that develop from it.
There is concern by some medical experts about the safety and effectiveness of the swine flu vaccine.