29 Apr 2009

Swine Flu Infomation Sheet


What is swine flu?
Swine flu is a group of influenza viruses that causes flu in pigs. Usually infections in humans are uncommon. The current swine flu which is infecting people is a new strain of influenza A/H1N1. It is not certain how it developed. Its genetic makeup shows parts of human flu, avian (bird) flu and swine flu.

What are the symptoms?
Limited information is available at this stage. It appears that the early symptoms are similar to seasonal flu - cough, fever, sore throat, headache, runny nose, general fatigue and muscle pains. Vomiting and diarrhea have also been noted. Severe cases have progressed quickly (within 5 days) to pneumonia-like illness (shortness of breath and difficulty breathing).

Is this swine flu a severe illness?
It appears that the virus is capable of causing severe disease. However it is currently unknown how likely it is that those who get sick will suffer a severe illness.

Most cases in the United States and Canada to date have been mild. There have been no fatalities.

In Mexico there have been fatal cases, apparently in previously healthy young adults. The proportion of severe cases appears to be much higher than with regular seasonal flu.

Why the disease appears to be more severe in Mexico is unknown.

How is this swine flu spreading?
It is most likely spreading from person to person through infectious respiratory droplets (droplets generated when a person coughs, sneezes or talks.)

How can I prevent getting sick?
Observe good hygiene. Avoid people who are obviously sick. Be sure to wash your hands frequently. Avoid touching your face, and if you do, be sure your hands are clean.

What is the infectious period?
The infectious period for this strain is not yet known. According to the US CDC, infected people should be considered potentially contagious:
  • one day before their symptoms start
  • seven days after their symptoms start OR as long as they are still showing symptoms (whichever is longer)

Children, especially younger children, might potentially be contagious for longer periods.

What is the incubation period?
The incubation period is the time between exposure to the virus and people developing symptoms? The incubation period for this strain is not yet known.

With seasonal flu, people develop symptoms within about 4 days. However for this new strain of flu, the incubation period may be longer.

US CDC is currently advising people to monitor their health for 7 days after possible exposure.

Is there a vaccine?
There is no specific vaccine against this swine flu as yet. Regular seasonal flu vaccine is unlikely to provide protection against this strain. Nevertheless, those who have not had a seasonal flu vaccine should consider doing so.

As a general good health practice, people should make sure all their routine vaccinations are up-to-date. This includes pneumococcal vaccination for certain adults. This vaccine is usually recommended for all people over 65 years old and younger people with serious long-term health problems (heart disease, diabetes, alcoholism, COPD, emphysema, asthma, cancer treatment, HIV/AIDS).

Can swine flu be treated with antiviral medications?
Preliminary information indicates that the virus is sensitive to the newer antiviral medications oseltamivir (Tamiflu) and zanamivir (Relenza). It is resistant to the older medications amantadine and rimantidine.

All travelers (any destination)
People who have not had an annual flu vaccination should consider having one to prevent regular seasonal flu.

As a general good health practice, all travelers should:
  • Maintain good personal hygiene. Wash your hands frequently. Avoid touching your face.
  • void people who are obviously sick.
  • Cover coughs and sneezes with a mask or a tissue.
  • Stay at home if you are unwell.
  • Contact your health care provider if you or your children develop flu-like symptoms.
  • Ensure their routine vaccinations are up-to-date. This includes pneumocococcal vaccination for certain adults: those over 65, people with serious long term health conditions and people whose immune systems are compromised due to transplants, cancer treatments, HIV/AIDS, etc.

If you are in an affected area, or have traveled to an affected area recently:
  • Monitor your health
  • If you develop symptoms, seek medical attention. Advise the healthcare facility that you have recently been in an area that has reported swine flu.
  • Parents should take their young children with fever or influenza-like symptoms for prompt medical attention.

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