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Tuesday, 8 September 2009

Swine flu - treatment and prevention

If you are in England, you can get antivirals to treat swine flu from a local collection point without seeing your GP. If you are in Scotland, Wales or Northern Ireland, contact your GP or specific helpline. Reduce your risk of catching swine flu by following good hand hygiene – CATCH IT, BIN IT, KILL IT.

If you think you have swine flu

Check your symptoms

Follow the link below or call 0800 1 513 100 (textphone - 0800 1 513 200)

If you are in England and think you may have swine flu, check your symptoms online by visiting the new National Pandemic Flu Service website, or by calling 0800 1 513 100 (0800 1 513 200 for Textphone).

If you do have swine flu, you will be given a unique access number and told where your nearest antiviral collection point is.

'Flu friend'

Your 'flu friend' – a friend or relative who does not have swine flu – can use this number to pick up your antivirals from the local collection point for you. Your flu friend must show their own ID as well as yours.

Acceptable forms of ID include:

  • a utility bill
  • passport
  • a credit or debit card
  • driving licence
  • NHS card

Contact your doctor

You should contact your doctor direct rather than using the National Pandemic Flu Service if:

  • you have a serious underlying illness
  • you are pregnant
  • you have a sick child under one year old
  • your condition suddenly gets much worse
  • your condition is still getting worse after seven days (five for a child)

Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland

If you are in Scotland, England or Northern Ireland the advice is different.

Follow the 'information around the UK' link below.

Antiviral drugs - Tamiflu and Relenza

Swine flu is being treated with antiviral drugs such as Tamiflu and Relenza. Antiviral drugs work by preventing the flu virus from reproducing - to be effective you need to take them within 48 hours of the symptoms beginning. This can reduce the risk of complications and possibly shorten the illness by a day.

If the National Pandemic Flu Service or your GP confirm you have swine flu, you will be told where your nearest antiviral collection point is so your 'flu friend' - a friend or relative who does not have swine flu - can pick up antiviral drugs for you.

Adverse reactions to Tamiflu

In some cases, antiviral medicine can cause side effects, such as:

  • nausea
  • vomiting
  • diarrhoea
  • stomach ache
  • headache

Even if you do feel these symptoms it is important that those prescribed antiviral medicine complete the course, even if symptoms of swine flu clear and you start to feel better quickly.

Should young children be treated with Tamiflu?

The review that said children should not be treated with Tamiflu was based on seasonal flu and not swine flu.

The authors admitted that it is uncertain how much the findings of that review apply to swine flu. After all, swine flu behaves differently to seasonal flu, and past pandemics have hit younger people hardest.

All people suffering from swine flu, including young children, will continue to be offered antivirals.

Buying Tamiflu

There is no need to jump the queue or pay for antivirals. They are free on the NHS and being offered to anyone who needs them. Anyone who buys antivirals online could be in danger of getting fake or substandard medicines. 

Online sales are investigated and those who abuse the system for profit could get up to ten years in prison for attempting to obtain and sell medicines illegally.

Swine flu vaccine

As swine flu is a new virus, a new vaccine had to be developed to deal with it. Vaccinations are expected to begin in late September or October.

The government has ordered enough vaccine for the whole population, but to reduce the impact of swine flu those at greatest risk will be given priority.

Vaccine priority groups

The following groups will be prioritised in this order:

  1. people aged over six months and under 65 years in seasonal flu vaccine at-risk groups
  2. all pregnant women, subject to licensing conditions on trimesters
  3. household contacts of people with reduced immune systems - e.g. people in regular close contact with patients on treatment for cancer
  4. people aged 65 and over in the seasonal flu vaccine at-risk groups -  this does not include otherwise healthy over 65s as they appear to have some natural immunity to the virus

People in the priority groups do not need to take any action yet. Further announcements will be made when the vaccination strategy is ready, and people who need a vaccine will be contacted.

Is the vaccine safe?

The vaccination programme will not begin until the vaccine is licensed by the European Medicines Agency (EMEA).

The EMEA has strict rules in place for licensing pandemic vaccines. The vaccine will not be used until it is licensed.

Manufacturers expect that licenses may be granted in late September or October. Vaccination will start as soon as possible once licences are granted.

Children and vaccination

So far, swine flu has mostly affected people in the at-risk groups above and children.

However, while people in at-risk groups would benefit from the vaccine at an early opportunity, most children make a full recovery.

As a result, health experts do not believe that children, other than those in at-risk groups, need to be given priority for the swine flu vaccine.

Prevention

Flu video

There's a simple way to remember this:

CATCH IT. BIN IT. KILL IT.

To reduce the risk of catching or spreading the virus you should:

  • cover your mouth and nose when coughing and sneezing, using a tissue
  • throw the tissue away quickly and carefully
  • wash your hands regularly with soap and water
  • clean hard surfaces (like door handles and remote controls) frequently with a normal cleaning product

Preparation

Go to NHS Choices for health advice on swine flu, including the latest advice on symptoms, prevention, treatment and causes

A global pandemic has been declared. To prepare:

  • always carry tissues - catching the germs in a tissue could help limit the spread of the virus
  • know your NHS number (this will be in NHS letters or prescriptions)
  • keep up to date with the latest help and advice available through radio, TV and the internet – follow the links below for more advice on Directgov
  • confirm your ‘flu friends’ - these are friends and neighbours who can help you if you become ill; they could get your medication or food for you so that you don’t have to leave the house - this will help stop the virus from spreading
  • have a two-week stock of food and other supplies in case you and your family are ill

Face masks

Although face masks have been given out in Mexico, there is no actual evidence that proves wearing a face mask will stop you getting the virus. It’s more effective to use tissues when sneezing and coughing and wash your hands regularly.

Latest news

Follow the link below for the latest news on swine flu.

Advice for businesses

Follow the link below for information on how to prepare your business for swine flu.

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