Swine Influenza/flu

What is swine 'flu?

Swine influenza (swine ‘flu) is a respiratory disease of pigs, caused by the type A influenza virus. Swine ‘flu is not normally transmitted to humans, but transmission has occurred recently in Mexico. It would appear that the virus has genetically changed and has become able to infect humans. Further cases of swine ‘flu have now been reported in other parts of the world, raising peoples awareness of the threat of a ‘flu pandemic. This situation is constantly evolving and it is likely that other countries will be affected.

Symptoms of swine influenza are similar to those of human seasonal influenza, i.e. fever, lethargy, cough, sore throat, body aching, headache, loss of appetite. Occasionally these symptoms are accompanied by a runny nose, sneezing, nausea, vomiting and diarrhoea . For most people the illness is mild and will last approximately 7 days.

How is swine 'flu transmitted?

Swine ‘flu viruses can be transmitted by pigs to humans and from humans to pigs. Infection from pigs is most likely to occur when people are in close proximity to infected pigs (e.g. working with pigs housed in barns, livestock exhibits at fairs). Human to human transfer occurs in exactly the same way as seasonal ‘flu. The virus is therefore primarily spread between humans via the droplets from an infected persons’ secretions (following coughing and sneezing) being inhaled by another person. Transmission can also occur from touching surfaces that have the flu virus on them, then touching the mouth or nose. This virus is not transmitted via food (i.e. eating adequately cooked pork or pork products is safe).

Is treatment available?

For many people, special treatment is not necessary. However, testing has shown that the human swine influenza H1N1 subtype is sensitive to and can therefore be treated with the antivirals, oseltamavir (Tamiflu®) and zanamivir (Relenza®). Your doctor / medical practitioner will advise you regarding whether antivirals are required.

When can I return to work after having swine flu'?

The consensus of opinion is that you can return to work safely, 7 days after the start of your symptoms (5 days if you have been taking antiviral medication), providing that your fever has settled and you are feeling well again. [Staff who are away from work due to illness can 'self-certify' their sickness absence for up to 7 days by completing University form PD77, which should be handed to the line manager on return to work].

I am pregnant, am I therefore at increased risk?

The clinical effects of swine flu' in pregnancy are still being gathered and assessed. However, it is considered likely that the current swine flu' virus will cause similar effects to seasonal flu' in pregnant women. Pregnancy does not make a women more susceptible to contracting the virus. However, any infection during pregnancy can increase the likelihood of complications (and that would of course include seasonal flu', swine flu' or other viral illnesses). It would therefore be wise to obtain some up to date advice from your midwife and GP should you get swine flu' when pregnant. Antiviral medication can be prescribed safely to women who are pregnant.

What should I do if I intend to travel to a country affected by swine ‘flu?

The University normally follows the advice for overseas travel issued by the Foreign and Commonwealth Office (FCO). Advice on travel can be found on the FCO website which is regularly updated. Please read and follow the advice given here and discuss any travel plans with your line manager or course tutor.

What should I do if I have returned from a country affected by swine ‘flu?

If you have recently visited one of the countries or areas where human cases of swine ‘flu have been identified, it is important that you monitor your health closely for seven days following your visit to the affected area. There is no need for you to isolate yourself from other people as long as you remain well. However, if during this period you develop a feverish illness accompanied by one or more of the symptoms listed above, you should contact your GP by ‘phone or seek advice from NHS Direct (tel: 0845 4647). You should make sure that you tell those from whom you are seeking advice about your recent travel to an area affected. Depending on your symptoms you may be advised that further investigations are necessary. You should also contact your line manager (staff) or personal tutor (students).

If further investigations are needed you will be advised about these arrangements, which may include admission to hospital.  However, in the majority of cases, you will be well enough to remain at home.  It is important that you avoid contact with other people as much as possible until the results of any tests are back. Your household contacts should also monitor their health and follow the above advice if they get symptoms.

What measures can I take to prevent infection?

General infection control measures, good respiratory hygiene and good hand hygiene will help to reduce the spread of all viruses, including human and swine ‘flu, i.e.:

  • Cover your nose and mouth when coughing or sneezing, using a tissue where possible.
  • Dispose of all used tissues promptly and carefully into a waste bin.
  • Maintain good basic hygiene at all times. Wash your hands frequently with soap and water, to prevent the spread of any virus on your hands to your face or other people.
  • Clean hard surfaces (e.g. door handles, work surfaces) frequently using a standard cleaning agent.
  • Avoid contact with other people and crowds, as far as that is possible.
  • Make sure that your children, family and colleagues follow this advice.

The H1N1 swine ‘flu viruses are genetically different to the human H1N1 ‘flu viruses and vaccines for human seasonal flu will not therefore provide protection from this virus. A vaccine will undoubtedly be produced as and when the virus is isolated.

Further, constantly updated, information is available via the Health Protection Agency website.