Swine flu: Facts and advice

25 May 2009

While the media hullabaloo around swine flu has all but disappeared in the wake of various political fracas, Dr Corinne Landon, Principal Medical Officer (Student Wellness), issued these pithy facts about H1N1.

What is swine influenza?

It is a highly contagious, acute respiratory disease of pigs, most commonly the H1N1 subtype, although there are other subtypes. Although swine influenza viruses are normally species-specific, they can sometimes cross the species barrier and cause disease in humans.

Countries affected:

  • Mexico
  • US
  • Canada
  • Spain
  • Scotland (suspected)
  • New Zealand

How do people become infected?

People usually get swine influenza from infected pigs but human-to-human transmission has occurred in some instances but is limited to close contacts and closed groups of people.

Is it safe to eat pork and pork products?

Yes. The virus is killed by cooking temperatures above 70 deg C.

Is there a vaccine?

There is no vaccine and it is not known if the current human seasonal influenza vaccine can provide protection.

What drugs are available?

Most of the patients recover fully without requiring any medical attention or anti-viral medication. Some of the viruses are resistant to anti-viral medication but the recent human cases of swine influenza in the US are sensitive to Oselatmivir (Tamiflu).

How can I protect myself?

Most current human infections have been mild and medical intervention has not been required.

To protect yourself, you should follow the general preventative measures for any influenza:

  • Avoid close contact with people who appear unwell and have a fever and cough
  • Wash your hands frequently with soap and water
  • Practise good health habits, including adequate sleep, nutritious food and keeping physically active.

If there is an ill person at hometry to isolate them.

  • If this is not practical, keep the patient at least one metre from others
  • Cover noses and mouths. Wear a mask, if you have one
  • Wash your hands with soap and water
  • Improve air flow by opening windows and doors
  • Keep the environment clean with household cleaning agents.

If you have a high fever, cough and/or sore throat

  • stay at home. Keep away from work, schools or crowded areas
  • rest and drink plenty of fluids
  • cover your mouth and nose with tissues when coughing and sneezing and dispose of used tissues properly
  • wash your hands frequently with soap and water
  • contact your health professional if symptoms increase or your condition deteriorates.

(Adapted from the World Health Organisation Swine Influenza FAQ).

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