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Swine Flu

Influenza A(H1N1) is also known as swine flu. It’s a highly contagious respiratory infection caused by type A influenza viruses that originated in pigs but is now being spread from human to human. People do not usually get swine flu but the present outbreak is transmitting from person to person. It has become a pandemic i.e. it is a global outbreak that is spreading quickly. This virus is easily spread when a person who is infected talks, sneezes or coughs. Small amounts of the virus are released into the air and can be inhaled by a person close by. Even if the infected person sneezes or coughs into their hand they can still spread the virus by touching any hard surface.

There are some things that everyone can do to help to control the spread of the influenza virus during the pandemic. Hand hygiene is very important, in fact crucial, to preventing the spread of the disease. Washing hands with soap and water is very effective and cleaning can also be carried out with alcohol-based products. There are gels and foams available at the Pharmacy. The Staff will be happy to advise you. These can be used without water. Hands should be dried thoroughly on a throw away towel and the towel should be disposed of immediately. Hands should be washed and dried before handling food, after coughing, sneezing, using the bathroom, wiping or nose-blowing and looking after sick people.

Nose and mouth should be covered when coughing or sneezing. Disposable tissues should be used at all times. Crowded, enclosed spaces should be avoided if possible. In the household or workplace, common surfaces such as taps, door knobs and tables should be disinfected once or twice daily. The sharing of cups and utensils should be avoided. Soap and disposable towels should be provided near sinks for hand washing.

Swine flu causes much the same symptoms as ordinary flu but more people are likely to catch it as people will not have immunity against this particular virus. Some of the symptoms are sudden onset of fever, cough or shortness of breath. Other symptoms can include headache, sore throat, tiredness, aching muscles, chills, sneezing, runny nose and loss of appetite. There are also cases of people with swine flu reporting nausea, vomiting and diarrhoea.

Should you or your dependent demonstrate the symptoms of swine flu, you should call your G.P. The Doctor will then decide if a prescription is required. You would most likely be prescribed Oseltamivir (Tamiflu) twice daily for five days (the dose is age dependent). This is a very effective treatment although side effects are experienced by a small percentage of patients. There is also an inhaled medication which is effective. This is Zanamivir which is branded as Relenza. Recent studies show that these two medications are safe in pregnancy and breast feeding.

The Department of Health and Children in Ireland plans to offer the swine flu vaccine to everyone in the country, prioritising those at most risk of contracting the virus. The vaccine is now available at G.P. surgeries and at special HSE clinics, spread across the country. For more information on the clinic closest to you visit the following web page or call the phone line listed on the page: Phone: 1800 94 11 00.

The vaccine is safe for the vast majority of the population. Those with egg or gentamycin allergies should speak to their health care Professional before vaccination. Meanwhile you can prepare for the swine flu by establishing a network of friends and family that can help you if you fall ill. You should also keep plenty of food and basic cold remedies at home in case you become housebound due to the virus. The Staff at the Pharmacy can advise you on a number of products available there for preventing the spread of the virus.

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Kevin McCormack B.Sc. Pharm. MPSI