What is swine influenza and influenza A (H1N1)?
Swine influenza is a contagious respiratory disease that normally only affects pigs. It is commonly caused by H1N1 strains of swine influenza A virus. However, other strains, such as H1N2, H3N1 and H3N2 also circulate in pigs. While it is not usual for people to get swine flu, human infections do occasionally happen, mainly after close contact with infected pigs.
During March/April 2009, a new strain of swine influenza virus emerged in Mexico, and started to cause illness in humans. The World Health Organisation says that this new strain of influenza, called Influenza A (H1N1), can spread from person to person. Experts around the world are working closely with the World Health Organisation to help determine what risk this virus poses to the public. There is some concern that this new strain could cause a human flu pandemic.
How does swine flu spread amongst pigs?
Pigs can get swine flu if they inhale respiratory droplets expelled by an infected pig. They can also get infected through direct or indirect contact with an infected pig.
What symptoms do infected pigs show?
Signs of swine influenza in pigs can include dullness, fever, coughing and breathlessness. Some infected pigs (about 1 to 4 %) may die, but most pigs recover rapidly.
Which countries have infected pigs?
Swine influenza is present in all pig-producing countries around the world. Outbreaks in pigs occur throughout the year. However, many countries routinely vaccinate pigs against swine influenza.
Should I take any special precautions when handling pigs?
Although there is no indication that the current human infections are linked to cases of swine influenza in pigs, the authorities advice pig-keepers to maintain high levels of hygiene. Pig-keepers should look out for unusual signs of respiratory disease in their pigs and contact their veterinary surgeon if they are concerned or require any advice on protecting their pigs from swine flu.
Which countries/states have human cases of influenza A (H1N1)?
During March/April 2009, Mexico reported an increase in the number of people with severe respiratory infections. Human infections with influenza A (H1N1) were then confirmed in Southern California and Texas. Since then, the World Health Organisation has confirmed human cases of influenza A (H1N1) in several countries around the world, including the UK.
In India, the incidences have been highest in 2009, 2010, 2012 and 2013. In 2015, swine flu cases are again on a rise especially during January-February, and are currently mainly reported from the states of Rajasthan, Gujarat, Haryana, Punjab, Delhi, Maharashtra, Madhya Pradesh, Karnataka, Tamil Nadu, Telangana and Andhra Pradesh.
What are the symptoms of influenza A (H1N1) in humans?
When people are infected with swine flu viruses, their symptoms are usually similar to those of seasonal influenza. These include fever, tiredness, and lack of appetite, coughing and a sore throat. Some people may also have vomiting and diarrhoea. Some people infected with influenza A (H1N1) have had severe illness and died. However, in most of the cases the symptoms of influenza A (H1N1) have been mild, and people have made a full recovery.
How does influenza A (H1N1) spread between people?
This new influenza virus is thought to spread in the same way as seasonal flu; in tiny droplets, expelled from the mouth and nose of an infected person when they talk, cough or sneeze. People may get infected if they breathe in these droplets or if they touch someone or something that is contaminated with the virus (e.g. a used tissue or door handle), and then touch their nose or eyes.
Is there a vaccine to protect people from influenza A (H1N1)?
The seasonal flu shot will help protect you against two or three influenza viruses, including H1N1 virus. The vaccine is available as an injection or a nasal spray. Please consult your physician for the same.
Is treatment available?
Certain antiviral medicines, such as Tamiflu, are available from your GP. These may shorten the illness and reduce the risk of complications. These drugs may cause side-effects and are not suitable for everyone, so your GP will only prescribe them if the benefits outweigh the risks.
What precautions can I take to help protect myself and my family?
Good hygiene can help reduce the spread of a wide range of viruses, including the influenza viruses.
The Health Protection Agency advises everyone to follow these precautions at all times:
• Frequently wash your hands with soap and water
• When coughing or sneezing, cover your mouth and nose with a tissue if possible
• Dispose of used tissues promptly and carefully. Put them in a bag and then bin them
• Clean hard surfaces (e.g. door handles) frequently
• Ensure children follow this advice
If you intend to travel to an affected country/state, you should check the advice provided by the local tourist offices.
How can washing my hands help protect me?
Washing your hands frequently is the best way to protect yourself from a wide range of illnesses, including influenza. Every time you touch something, germs can transfer to your hands. Touching your eyes, nose or mouth with unwashed hands could transfer the germs from your hands into your body. Washing your hands frequently can help remove the germs and stop them from spreading to you and other people, and protect you from a wide range of infections.
How can I remove flu viruses from surfaces?
An infected person could spread germs to surfaces around them when they cough or sneeze, or touch them with unwashed hands or used tissues. Cleaning surfaces regularly can help stop influenza viruses and other germs from spreading around your home, to you and other people.
Cleaning surfaces with detergent and water can remove germs from an item, provided you scrub all the surfaces and rinse them thoroughly with clean water. However, where proper rinsing is not possible (e.g. large or fixed surfaces such as kitchen worktops, toilet flushes and door handles) it is important to use a disinfectant to help kill the germs. It is particularly important to clean and disinfect surfaces that people often touch with their hands, such as:
• Handles and switches
• Taps and toilet flush handles
• Kitchen worktops
• Telephone receivers
• Computer keyboards
Cleaning and disinfecting surfaces using products that destroy influenza viruses will give extra reassurance.
Is it safe to eat pork and other foods derived from pigs?
You cannot get influenza by eating properly handled and prepared pork or other foods derived from pigs (e.g. bacon, sausages). However, good food hygiene helps prevent a wide range of infections, so it is important that all food is always prepared hygienically.
• Never eat raw or poorly cooked meat
• Keep raw meat away from cooked and ready-to-eat foods
• Use a separate chopping board and knife to prepare raw meat
• Wash your hands immediately after handling raw meat
• Clean and disinfect surfaces and utensils immediately after contact with raw meat
If someone develops flu symptoms, what should they do?
If you live in or have recently travelled to an area affected by influenza A (H1N1), and are experiencing flu-like symptoms, you should stay at home to limit contact with others, and seek medical advice by telephoning your GP.
Is this the start of a human flu pandemic?
Although the influenza A (H1N1) virus can spread from person to person, and is causing outbreaks of flu in some countries, it is too early to say whether this particular virus will cause a global human pandemic. The World Health Organisation is closely monitoring the situation.