What is swine flu?
Swine flu is a very contagious respiratory disease – so called because it usually affects pigs. It turns out that H1N1, the particular swine flu virus responsible for the current outbreak, can also affect humans. Most people affected so far actually were in direct contact with pigs, but the virus is now spreading from human to human. As a result, the World Health Organization has announced a worldwide pandemic alert.
The H1N1 virus is one of four subtypes of the type A influenza virus that can infect pigs. The H1N1 virus in pigs is different from the H1N1 virus in humans and birds, and the vaccines for human seasonal flu do not protect against it.
Is swine flu more dangerous for pregnant women?
The swine flu virus now spreading in Mexico and elsewhere is so new that there is not a lot of data available yet.
In 1988, however, a previously healthy pregnant woman died after infection with another type of swine influenza virus. Moms-to-be are also known to be at higher risk for complications for the types of flu that arrive every year during "flu season" (called "seasonal flu"), and they've been more prone to complications during previous pandemics.
What sorts of complications can happen?
Keep in mind that catching the flu when you are pregnant doesn't mean you or your baby is in danger. Many moms-to-be who get the flu have no complications. But statistically, pregnant women are more likely to develop a severe case of the flu. During pregnancy, the illness can get bad very quickly and be complicated by infections such as pneumonia or by fetal distress.
Evidence that influenza can be more severe during pregnancy comes from observations during previous pandemics and from studies of pregnant women who come down with seasonal flu. For example, higher rates of flu-related deaths, miscarriage, and premature birth were reported for pregnant women during the pandemics of 1918–1919 and 1957–1958.
What are the symptoms of swine influenza?
The symptoms of swine flu in humans are the same like seasonal influenza, and include fever, sore throat, cough, body aches, headache, chills and fatigue. Some also report diarrhea and vomiting.
People with swine flu should be considered contagious for as long as they have symptoms and for up to 7days following onset of illness.
Are there any symptoms I should watch for in my children?
Breathing too fast or troubled breathing indicates a respiratory illness in kids. Also, if your child is irritable, unusually sleepy, or has a fever, talk to or take him to see your doctor.
Although these can be the symptoms of a regular cold, your child's doctor can better determine whether it's something more serious.
How can I protect myself from getting swine influenza from infected people?
In the past, human infection with swine influenza was generally mild, however the clinical pictures of the current outbreaks in the United States and Mexico have been different. None of the confirmed cases in the US have had the severe form of the disease and the patients recovered without requiring medical care. In Mexico, some patients reportedly had the severe form of the disease.
To protect yourself, practice general preventive measures for influenza:
Avoid close contact with people who appear unwell, who have fever and cough.
Wash your hands with soap and water frequently and thoroughly.
Practice good health habits including adequate sleep, eating nutritious food, and keeping physically active.
If there is an ill person at home:
Try to provide the ill person a separate section in the house. If this is not possible, keep the patient at least 1 meter in distance from others.
Cover mouth and nose when caring for the ill person.
Cover one’s mouth and nose with a tissue when coughing and sneezing and disposing of used tissues into a bin. Wash hands after coughing and sneezing with water and soap.
Wash your hands with soap and water thoroughly after each contact with the ill person.
Try to improve the air flow in the area where the ill person stays. Use doors and windows to take advantage of breezes.
Keep the environment clean with readily available household cleaning agents.
Is it safe to eat pork and pork products?
Yes. Swine influenza has not been shown to be transmissible to people through eating properly handled and prepared pork (pig meat) or other products derived from pigs. The swine influenza virus is killed by cooking temperatures of 160F/70C, corresponding to the general guidance for the preparation of pork and other meat.
Is there a human vaccine to protect from swine influenza?
There are no vaccines that contain the current swine influenza virus causing illness in humans. The current human seasonal influenza vaccines cannot provide any protection from the swine flu virus as the H1N1 swine flu is antigenically very different from human H1N1 virus, and influenza viruses change very quickly
What drugs are available for treatment?
Antivirals can be used to treat swine influenza. Most of the previously reported swine influenza cases recovered fully from the disease without requiring medical attention and without antiviral medicines.
Some influenza viruses develop resistance to the antiviral medicines, limiting the effectiveness of treatment. The viruses obtained from the recent human cases with swine influenza in the United States are sensitive some types of antivirals, while resistant to others. These antivirals should only be taken by those suffering from symptoms and not in a prophylactic manner, so as to ensure effectiveness and prevent further resistance.
In Malta, enhanced surveillance has been set up in order to identify any cases that meet the criteria of a case as defined by the ECDC (European Centre for Disease Prevention and Control). Any such cases will be fully investigated and all the necessary precautions will be taken. A number of World Health Organisation persons have travelled to Mexico, and have made contact with the Infectious Disease Prevention and Control Unit for advice.
Anyone who has travelled to Mexico and develops syptoms of fever, cough or sore throat should contact his doctor urgently. Doctors have instructions on how to deal with such cases. For further information a helpline 21324086 is available and is manned by public health doctors 24/7. The Health Division advises the general public to avoid unnecessary travel to Mexico.
The Health Division is aware that a number of Maltese households have purchased antiviral medicines which are being stored in their houses.
Indiscriminate use of antiviral drugs without medical advice is dangerous because of the risk of this virus developing resistance. So far this virus is responding well to anti viral treatment. If these anti viral medicines are used for normal flu or colds, this virus could become resistant and the incidence of fatality will increase. Thus it has to be stressed that anti virals should be used ONLY when indicated by a Public Health Doctor.
Finally, the Health Division must once again stress that there is no reason for alarm or panic. The Division will continue to be vigilant in the surveillance, and urges everyone to continue with their activities in a normal manner.