Page last updated at 16:47 GMT, Friday, 3 July 2009 17:47 UK

Swine flu: Your questions answered

Sir Liam Donaldson

The government has admitted that there are now so many cases of swine flu in the UK that the outbreak cannot be contained.

Ministers said the emergency response would now move to a new "treatment" phase across the UK as there may soon be 100,000 new cases a day.

Sir Liam Donaldson, the chief medical officer for England, answers your questions about the outbreak, and what is the best advice one can follow.

Click on a question to see the answer to that particular query, or scroll down the page to read them all.

Q. In the event of swine flu mutating into something more virulent, will the UK be at all prepared? Rebecca, London, England

There is no sign so far of the current flu virus mutating into a different strain and we continue to monitor the virus very closely.

This is possible and if it happens it could cause more severe infections.

The UK's pre-existing pandemic flu plans have been worked on for five years.

They take account of both 'mild' and severe scenarios and preparations reflect this.

Q. I have had some fairly severe chest infections over the last couple of years. I usually end up needing antibiotics and steroids after developing a cold or cough and am worried that I may become ill if I catch swine flu. Is there anything I can do to boost my system and try to reduce the risk of developing problems if I catch it? Karen, Northern Scotland

If you do not already do so, regular brisk physical activity (if your doctor says you are fit to do so) would boost your overall health and tend to increase your resistance to illness.

If you develop symptoms of flu you should first go online and check your symptoms on www.nhs.uk or call the Swine Flu information line on 0800 1 513 513.

If you are still concerned you should then call your GP, who can make an assessment over the phone.

If appropriate, then he/she will probably offer you antivirals to reduce the impact of the 'flu virus on you.

Q. Both myself and my two-year-old daughter have asthma. What exactly are the 'underlying health issues' that make swine flu potentially more serious. Should I be doing anything extra to protect my daughter and I? Kevin Wilson, Falkirk, Scotland

People who have been treated for asthma are in an at risk group for flu.

If you or your daughter have symptoms of flu you should first go online and check your symptoms on www.nhs.uk or call the Swine Flu information line on 0800 1 513 513.

If you are still concerned you should then call your GP, who can make an assessment over the phone.

If appropriate, then he/she will probably offer you antivirals to reduce the impact of the 'flu virus on you and your daughter.

To protect yourself and your family from getting swine flu you should remember to cover your noses and mouths with tissues when you cough and sneeze and then throw the tissue away and wash your hands.

Q. If someone catches swine flu now whilst the illness is mild, does this mean that they would be immune to a potentially more severe mutated form of the virus later in the year? Naomi Griffiths

If you catch swine flu now it is likely that you will be immune to catching the illness again.

However, I strongly advise against going out and trying to catch swine flu - we don't yet know enough about the virus.

In other parts of the world it has hospitalised young, healthy people. We don't yet know why.

Q: Given the very large, projected infection rates for August, will this result in travel restrictions to-and-from, and within, the UK? Is it possible that holidaymakers will be stopped from travelling around this period? Keith Seffen, Cambridge, England

We are not planning to restrict travel within the UK unless it becomes necessary for public health reasons.

Any restrictions which are considered are likely to be on an advisory basis.

Scientific modelling shows that internal travel restrictions would have little impact on the total number of people infected by flu.

Q. What safety measures are being taken to prevent the spread of this disease other than wearing masks and quarantining people? Azhaar Ashraf, Worcester Park, London

There is no conclusive evidence that facemasks protect healthy people in their day-to-day lives - and if used incorrectly, masks may even expose people to infection.

Instead, we want people to focus on good hand hygiene, staying at home if they're feeling unwell with flu like symptoms, covering their mouth when they cough or sneeze, cleaning their hands with soap and water or sanitising gel.

These are simple, proven ways of protecting yourself and others from infection.

Q. Will the fact that some of the population who suffer from hayfever and hence sneeze a lot, be a factor in increasing the spread of the virus? Paul Wright, Thornton-Cleveleys, England

It may have some impact but this will be reduced if people practise good hygiene.

Q. It is all very well having the biggest stock of Tamiflu but it seems GPs are refusing to give it to the public, and instead offering advice such as to rest, take paracetamol and plenty of fluids. Is the NHS failing to distribute Tamiflu correctly? Penni, London

We are now in the treatment phase which means that Tamiflu will only be offered to people who have swine flu not usually to their contacts.

However, it remains a matter of clinical discretion to decide whether antivirals should be prescribed in individual cases - for example where doctors are likely to be contacted by patients with coughs, colds and the worried well, in addition to those with swine flu.

Q. Now that Tamiflu will not be given to close contacts, does this mean if my wife contracts it I will not receive it, even though I am at risk following heart attack and strokes? JH, UK

You will be offered Tamiflu when you show the symptoms of swine flu.

As you are considered to be in an "at risk" group, it is important that you contact your GP as soon as you have symptoms.

General practitioners do have the discretion to offer antivirals to a close household contact who has a serious underlying health problem.

Q. Is Swine Flu symptom-specific? In the absence of an appropriate blood-test analysis, can it be adequately identified by symptoms alone? James, Tunbridge Wells

Yes. If you think you have swine flu, you should first go online and check your symptoms on www.nhs.uk or call the Swine Flu information line on 0800 1 513 513.

If you are still concerned, you should then call your GP, who can make an assessment over the phone.

Q. I will be travelling to the UK for holidays soon. I have two young children and I am tempted to bring my own supply of Tamiflu. Are there clear guidelines as to when the use of Tamiflu is really necessary, especially by people without a medical background? I would not want to help build the virus's resistance to Tamiflu. Meggie Williams, The Hague, Netherlands

You should only take Tamiflu when you have flu-like symptoms.

Make sure you take the full course even if you start to feel better.

And please do not buy Tamiflu from the internet - it could be counterfeit and dangerous.

Q. Will the UK authorities make Tamiflu available to holidaymakers going abroad in case they catch flu while on holiday? Alastair, Reading

We are not offering antivirals for people to take on holiday with them.



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