What is swine influenza (swine flu)?
Swine influenza (swine flu) is a respiratory disease of pigs caused by type A influenza. Swine flu viruses do not normally infect humans, however, human infections with swine flu do occur, and cases of human-to-human spread of a swine flu virus have been recently confirmed.
· What is the current situation?
Human cases of a new form of influenza virus were identified in the United States, Mexico and Canada in April 2009. The influenza is a swine influenza A virus. The World Health Organization has declared the swine influenza situation to be a public health emergency of international concern.
No cases of swine influenza have been confirmed in Pakistan / India as of 28 April 2009.
The pandemic alert level has been raised by the World Health Organization.
This event is of concern because:
Swine influenza is derived from an animal influenza virus, which means that humans will likely have little or no immunity
There has been rapid spread to multiple communities overseas
Swine influenza is affecting unusual age groups (healthy, young adults)
The Swine Influenza A virus is thought to be sensitive to the new antiviral drugs oseltamivir (Tamiflu) and zanamivir (Relenza), but resistant to both amantadine and rimantadine.
· What are the symptoms?
The symptoms of swine influenza are similar to normal influenza (fever, cough, tiredness, muscle aches, sore throat, chills, shortness of breath, runny nose, headache). Some cases of swine influenza have also complained of vomiting and diarrhoea. In some cases, swine influenza can result in a severe pneumonia. Symptoms of influenza generally appear between two to four days after exposure.
· Who is at risk?
Currently, travellers exposed to cases of swine influenza overseas are at risk of becoming infected with the new swine influenza virus.
· How is it prevented?
As the new swine influenza strain has only been identified recently, a human vaccine for swine influenza is not yet available. Existing vaccines for normal human influenza will probably not provide protection against swine influenza. Scientists worldwide are working to develop a suitable human vaccine against swine influenza A (H1N1), however a vaccine is not expected to become available in the near future.
Until a vaccine becomes available, the best method of prevention will be to ensure that everyone washes their hands regularly and thoroughly, steps away from others when they cough or sneeze, coughs or sneezes into tissues and stays away from people who are sick.
· What should I do if I develop symptoms?
People who develop influenza-like symptoms should stay at home until they are completely better. People who have recently returned from affected areas and who develop influenza-like symptoms or breathing difficulties should contact their local public health unit, general practitioner or emergency department.
Swine influenza virus infection can be diagnosed using swabs from the nose and throat. Testing is done at a specialized laboratory.
· How is it treated?
If you become unwell and suspect that you may have swine influenza, you should contact your local public health unit or general practitioner, or go to your nearest hospital emergency department for assessment and treatment. Specific anti-influenza drugs are likely to be effective against swine influenza.
· What is the public health response?
There have been no confirmed cases of swine influenza in Australia as of 27 April 2009. There is enhanced surveillance for people infected with swine influenza, especially in people who have returned from affected areas within the last 7 days.
Should suspected human cases occur in NSW, the local public health unit will work with the patient, the treating doctors, and the laboratory to confirm the diagnosis. Suspected cases will be asked to isolate themselves from others to prevent further infection.
The situation is changing rapidly. For updated information on affected areas, see the Pakistani / Indian Government travel advice websites. Always wash your hands thoroughly after coming into contact with sick people, after coughing, sneezing or going to the toilet, or before eating.