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Swine flu Q&A

What you need to know about swine flu

What is Swine Flu?

Swine flu is a type of flu virus which originally infected pigs but spread to humans in 2009. It is known clinically as the H1N1 virus.

What are the symptoms?

They are similar to those of ordinary seasonal flu and include fever with a temperature over 38C, a dry cough, headache, sore throat, aching muscles, chills and tiredness. In severe cases it can lead to pneumonia, multi-organ failure and death. Most patients, however, recover within a week without special treatment.

How is it spread?

Swine flu is spread the same way a seasonal flu, through coughing and sneezing. The virus multiplies in the nose and airway passages and is spread through a spray of droplets.

How long does it take to incubate?

Typically, the person is infected between one and three days before the symptoms appear and they continue to be infectious for a further three to five days. Children may be infectious for a longer period.

Has Swine Flu become more deadly this year?

Doctors are concerned that more patients are being admitted to hospital with serious breathing problems than during the last two outbreaks.

There is no evidence, however, that the H1N1 virus has mutated. So far there have been no deaths in the current outbreak. During the last flu season 24 people with the H1N1 virus died.

Who is most at risk?

Swine flu can affect all ages but pregnant women and young children are more likely to develop serious complications.

The biggest risk groups also include people with chronic diseases like heart conditions, respiratory, kidney and liver disease, diabetes and those whose immune system is suppressed.

What precautions can I take?

The annual flu vaccine this year contains immunisation against Swine flu and two other flu strains. After the injection it takes two weeks for the vaccine to produce the required antibodies to protect against infection.

Good hygiene is important as the virus can spread through sneezing, coughing and contaminated hands or surfaces.

What is the best treatment?

Unless there are complications, then the best treatment is to stay indoors, keep warm and drink plenty of liquids.

Simple painkillers such as paracetamol may help relieve headache or muscle pains but aspirin should not be given to children under the age of 16 years.

How long does the Swine Flu vaccination last?

Those who were vaccinated against Swine Flu last year are still protected this year, although the level of protection depends on your health and your immune system.