Page last updated at 14:35 GMT, Thursday, 11 June 2009 15:35 UK

Your swine flu questions answered

Eleanor Bradford

BBC Scotland's health correspondent Eleanor Bradford has been monitoring the spread of swine flu since the first case emerged in Scotland.

As the number of confirmed cases continues to rise, she has been answering some of your questions about the virus.


Q1.Should I travel to areas affected by swine flu and will I catch the virus on the flight?

The foreign office gives travel advice on its website and this is updated regularly. It will tell you if there are any regions which should be avoided.

It's clear this virus can be passed from person to person on a flight, but so far the only people who have been affected are those sitting very close to people who are obviously showing symptoms.

If someone near you is coughing or sneezing they should do you the courtesy of using hankies then disposing of them. You can protect yourself by washing your hands regularly.


Q2. I have been diagnosed today as having suspected swine flu pending results. How long will I have to wait for results? I am due to go on holiday to France on Monday - can I still go if test results are negative? Heather, Lanarkshire

Tests for swine flu are now being carried out in Scotland which has considerably speeded up the process. The test itself should only take a day but as the number of cases has increased in the last few days the lab may have a backlog of cases to deal with.

If your sample was inconclusive it could also take longer. If you are diagnosed with swine flu the authorities may ask you to limit your contact with other people as much as possible to prevent spreading the virus further.

The symptoms last for around seven days and although you may not be too unwell (particularly if you're taking anti-virals) it would be best not to travel to avoid passing on your germs to other people.

If you are feeling very unwell and think it could be swine flu call NHS 24 on 08454 24 24 24. Their website also has a good list of symptoms.


Q3. I attended a golf outing over the weekend where one of the four fell unwell on Sunday and was subsequently tested for swine flu on Tuesday after attending his local GP.

It is safe to say we were in close proximity for the best part of two days, however I have been advised to carry on as normal while he waits on test results. Surely I should be taking some precautions during this period rather than waiting on a confirmed case? I'm 32

If you're feeling fine the danger to you and your family is really very small. The evidence suggests people are infectious only when they're showing symptoms, and even then you may not have caught it, or your immune system may have fought it off already.

If you start to show symptoms you could get in touch with NHS 24 who may decide you should be given anti-virals to lessen the effects. Health authorities are now reluctant to give anti-virals to people who are well because there's a risk that we make the virus resistant to them.


Q4. Many weeks ago it was announced on the news that a swine flu leaflet would be delivered to every household in the UK. As we have not yet received this leaflet in our village is there any reason for this or is it only in England that these leaflets were delivered. Helen

I also have not received a leaflet, but you can get all the same information on the internet at www.NHS24.com. I've asked the Scottish Government to update me on how many leaflets have been delivered, although it's actually being co-ordinated by the Department of Health in London and the Royal Mail.


Q5. I live in Edinburgh and I am a 47-year-old male bus driver. Obviously, during the course of my employment, I am coming into contact with many members of the public.

Will my 'bandit screen' afford me any protection against the spread of swine flu, and what other steps can I take to reduce the risk of contracting the flu? Tony

Your best defence against swine flu is actually your age, because you're probably old enough to be immune. The evidence so far is this virus affects much younger people and you have already lived through the pandemic of 1968.

If you're not immune, your 'bandit screen' will probably help but the biggest source of transmission will be handling people's money, if you do that. Regular handwashing will guard against picking up germs from coins and notes. The chances of anyone with the virus getting on your bus is still small at the moment.


Q6. My sister is pregnant and works in a school where someone is undergoing tests for swine flu - what are the risks of swine flu for people who are pregnant?

The answer is we simply don't know at the moment. We do know that normal seasonal flu can be more serious if you're pregnant - you're more likely to get it and it can have complications such as early labour.

But you'd probably not worry about normal flu. The key thing is to wait and see what these tests show - and in the meantime follow the recommended hygiene rules and stay away from anyone with obvious symptoms (and that includes a high fever, even if they're not coughing or sneezing).

It might be an idea to talk to your employer in case they want to keep you off work as a precaution, or to offer you Tamiflu.

Remember, Tamiflu only offers you protection for 7-10 days, so there's no point taking it unless you definitely know you've been close to someone with the virus.


Q7. If you had another illness such as the common cold or another type of influenza at the time of contracting swine flu are you likely to become significantly more ill with the virus? Also is it possible or even likely that should you have a form of influenza and contract swine flu at the same time, that they will interact with one another and possibly mutate?

The chances of catching two types of influenza at the same time are very low - you'd be incredibly unlucky.

However, as the number of people with the virus rises there is a concern that somewhere in the world this could happen and the virus could mutate.

At the moment we have a very infectious virus which, thankfully, is not very deadly. If it mutated with something such as H5N1 - bird flu - we'd have a very infectious deadly virus, which would be worrying.

However, that's not happened yet and you could predict doom and gloom scenarios for all kinds of things - we live in a world full of risks.


Q8. We currently have four critical cases in Scotland. How does this compare with normal seasonal flu?

It's very similar, but the unusual thing with swine flu is that the people who are critically ill are all under 50 years old. Normally, with seasonal flu, you'd expect them to be mostly elderly people. That doesn't mean seasonal flu is less important, but swine flu could have an impact on the economy. Potentially, more of the workforce will be off sick.


Q9. I live in Paisley and it seems people are falling ill with swine flu every day here. One of my friends is a confirmed case. All of my friends the other day had the flu, and it is just clearing up now, but they had every single swine flu symptom.

Just when do you predict we should be taking proper action to prevent catching it, for example masks and so on?

Purely my opinion, I don't think experts/the government have actually experienced anyone close to them with it, in order for them to want to take action to stop themselves from catching it.

I know if I was to walk about myself with a mask on, and nobody else, I would be embarrassed although swine flu is in my town and near me and I could quite easily catch it. At the moment I think they are just seeing figures.

I know what you mean about just 'seeing figures' but the figures do help us keep things in perspective. It appears to be all around you, and therefore more alarming, but risk to the general public is still low.

Remember for most people this is a mild flu - as the recovery of your friends goes to show. Anyone over the age of 50 will have lived through at least one pandemic and probably didn't even give it a second thought!

Research shows face masks are only effective for a few hours before they become moist. It's also still possible to pick up the virus by rubbing your eyes. The best way to protect yourself is to follow the hygiene advice, especially hand hygiene.


Q10. I am a 62-year-old male and I had a splenectomy 40 years ago because of traumatic injury. I am in good health and have regular diplococcus vaccines. Do I need to take any special precautions if I contract swine flu? John

The evidence so far is that only the under-50's are susceptible to swine flu.

You've probably got immunity because you've lived through previous pandemics with a similar virus.

If you do feel particularly unwell with the symptoms of the flu then contact NHS 24 on 08454 24 24 24 and they will be able to advise you.


Q11. My elderly mother and aunt (aged 79 and 82) have booked a short holiday in Dunoon at the beginning of August. They are worried about the outbreak of swine flu in the area and wonder if they should cancel their holiday.

As with the case above, it's highly likely your mother and aunt have immunity to swine flu.

Even so, the number of swine flu cases in Dunoon appears to have peaked and has now started to fall.

The chief medical officer told me the chances of catching swine flu are still very low and he would have no qualms about visiting Dunoon himself.


Q12. I am due to travel to Paisley on 5 July. I am very concerned because there are a number of cases in hospital there.

My daughter, who is 25 years old, suffers from asthma. What precautions should we take or should we cancel my holiday?

We will be coming from Egypt and they are terrified of swine flu here. Doreen

The number of cases of swine flu in Paisley is tiny compared to the population and the chances of you being exposed are still very small.

To put it in context, you're far more likely to be run over by a car in Egypt (or Scotland, for that matter) than get swine flu.

Although your daughter's asthma puts her in a slightly higher risk category, the number of people who have had to go to hospital, let alone the number of deaths, is still very small - between four and six people in every 100.

We also know that two thirds of people who are exposed to swine flu don't even get ill.

It's not something you should worry about for your visit, but increasing your hygiene levels (particularly washing your hands) and staying away from anyone who looks obviously unwell won't do any harm.


Q13. I am asking about Scotland's high percentage: What is happening in Scotland - is the Scottish Government under-reacting hence the unbalanced stats!!! David

A. I've spoken to flu experts inside and outside the government and none of them can explain why Scotland seems to have a disproportionately high number of swine flu cases (1/4 of all UK cases, at today's count).

There's a particularly large outbreak in Dunoon, which accounts for a large part of the figures and is probably just down to bad luck.

Neither can anyone explain why Scotland has the only hospitalised cases so far - that may also be bad luck or it could be due to a higher proportion of people with health problems here.

The experts I've been speaking to think the Scottish Government has been handling the situation in the right way so far.


Q14. I have a nine-month-old and a four-year-old. Do we know yet how the virus effects children of this age? And is this different from normal flu? Susan White

A. The age range of those who are susceptible to the virus seems to be from 0-40yrs, which includes your children, but don't panic.

Although several children have picked up the virus so far all of them have had mild symptoms and recovered well.

All in all you shouldn't worry about this any more than you would worry about the normal flu that circulates every year.

However, while the number of swine flu cases are still low, you can use this time to make sure your children are as healthy as possible - with a good balanced diet - so that their immune systems are strong.

You should also follow the government's advice on hygiene - sneeze into tissues and wash your hands regularly.


Q15. I am a 34-year-old girl from Glasgow, with asthma. Does it make sense to have a pneumonia vaccination at this stage?

I also already had a seasonal flu vaccine in November last year -will it make the symptoms of swine flu milder if contracted?

And could you also describe, what underlying health problems are in the "first risk group"?

And what are possible complications from Swine flu except pneumonia?

What is at the end of the day the main reason for people to die from swine flu?

Swine flu leaflet
Leaflets with information have been sent to every household

A. Although you are in a slightly higher risk group, we know the anti-virals are very effective in lessening the effects of swine flu, and work is already underway to create a vaccine - which should be ready by the winter.

Experts expect the number of cases to die down over the summer, and re-emerge in the winter by which time hopefully there will be a vaccine.

The flu vaccine you had last year will not protect you against swine flu because each flu strain is different and there is no other effective vaccine available yet.

It would be wise to follow the advice above and use this time to build up your immune system through healthy living.

Having said that, experts still don't know why some people are more susceptible. It may be that some of us have the 'wrong' gene which makes us vulnerable.

The NHS won't release details on the health problems of those who are seriously ill so far, but newspapers have reported that one of them has liver and kidney disease through nicotine and alcohol abuse.


Q16. My son has come home from school with a letter, saying that a pupil in 3rd year at his school has contracted swine flu.

The school has recommended that the 3rd year pupils stay off school and the other pupils continue to attend as normal.

Is this advisable? Should they not have closed the whole school until this threat has been cleared up?

The school will have been advised by health protection experts, and they will base their decision on when the child showed symptoms, and how many people they were in contact with at that time.

We know someone is only contagious when they're showing symptoms (e.g. coughing and sneezing).

The third year pupils might have been told to stay off as a precaution, or because the specialists are confident that only they have been exposed.

If the risk to the rest of the pupils is low, there's probably as much chance that you've been exposed to the virus in the community anyway, and it would be an unnecessary disruption to close the school.


Q17. I am a 27-year-old man and I live in South Lanarkshire. I have followed the swine flu outbreak since the beginning.

I always thought that it would never happen to me and then yesterday I developed a chesty cough and a runny nose. I do not have a fever nor do I have any aches or muscle pain. I am of relatively good health and yet this has worried me.

My question is this, what are the differences between a "normal" flu or cold and the swine flu? John McDade

If you had the flu you would know about it!

Alongside coughs and sneezes, the symptoms of swine flu (and flu in general) are, body aches, headaches, chills and fatigue. You may also have diarrhoea and vomiting.

It sounds like you just have a cold, but if you're worried you could speak to a nurse at NHS 24 on 08454 24 24 24.


Q18. I have recently returned from holiday in New York and Dominican Republic and I have been exhibiting signs of swine flu (cough, chills, fatigue, sore throat, diarrhoea, back, neck and limb pain, etc) throughout my trip and after returning home.

However, my symptoms appear to be decreasing and I feel a lot better. Should I bother with NHS 24 or a doctor at this point as I believe I am over it? Katie

It's probably a good idea to call NHS 24 because even if you've recovered from swine flu since the epidemiologists (the people who map the progress of the virus) need to know how many cases there are and where they are.

Your story just goes to show that it's nothing to worry about too much!


Q19. We are due to travel to Drumnadrochit on 18 July to holiday there for two weeks. I am very concerned about this as my son is asthmatic and I don't want to put him in any danger. Is it wise to cancel our holiday or are we just being over cautious? Maria

Hi Maria. You haven't mentioned where you're travelling from.

If you live anywhere in the UK the risks to you and your family is no higher in Drumnadrochit - in fact it's probably less because it's a long way from any of the clusters so far.


Q20. (3 Questions about travel to Mexico)

I'm going on my honeymoon to Cancun in 6 weeks time. Are we able to get Tamiflu as a precaution to take with us? Alan

I am due to travel to Mexico with my girlfriend. I have been advised by my work that I have not to return to work until I have had the all clear from the doctor and been quarantined. What tests can I expect and how long will I have to wait for results? Robert

I am going to Cancun, Mexico on 26 June - what are the risks and should I take any precautions? Scott Glen

The number of cases of swine flu in Mexico is declining (and the number of deaths there due to swine flu has also been revised downwards) and the Foreign Office says it's now OK to visit Mexico.

The centre of the outbreak was Mexico City and those of you who are going to Cancun will be many miles away.

It's unlikely you'll be given Tamiflu as a precaution because that needs to be taken only on the advice of a doctor, but you should check with your travel agent/doctor what immunisations are needed before travelling anyway.

If you're exposed to the virus and are susceptible to it (and 2/3 of us aren't) you'll develop symptoms within 10 days, so this might be the quarantine period, Robert.

I don't think you'll be tested unless you show symptoms, because the labs are too busy. The Mexican tourist industry desperately needs your support, so go and have a good time!




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