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Last Updated: Thursday June 11 2009 14:49 GMT

Latest lowdown on swine flu

Doctor with swine flu samples

Prof Wendy Barclay
Prof Wendy Barclay

Swine flu is making headlines all over the world. The World Health Organisation has said it is a pandemic.

But what does that mean? And what is the truth about swine flu?

Professor Wendy Barclay from Imperial College London answers some of the big questions.

Why is swine flu being classed as a pandemic? What exactly is a pandemic?

The World Health Organisation has been counting how many people around the world have caught swine flu so far.

It is now clear that the virus is present in all the continents of the world and is spreading between people.

We can therefore decide this is a pandemic, which means a disease that can affect all the world, not just one area.

Is this bad news or good news?

The fact that the virus has spread widely means that it is likely to stay around and affect more people as the year goes on.

The good news is that now governments will be able to step up all the plans they have in place to protect people against the disease, and go full steam ahead with producing a vaccine.

Does it mean I'm more likely to get swine flu?

Right now the chances of catching swine flu in the UK are still small.

As time goes by though, it is likely that many more of us will catch the virus, but do remember not everyone will get ill and the symptoms are mild.

How come the swine flu virus has spread so quickly in Australia?

In Australia at the moment it is winter time and that is when viruses like flu spread the most easily between people.

That is partly because the virus survives so much better in the cold dry weather and partly because in winter people group together indoors, and the virus passes between them more easily that way.

Why are there more cases in Scotland than anywhere else in the UK?

I am not sure there really are more cases in Scotland than elsewhere in the UK.

Some of the first people to return from affected areas and bring the virus here were in Scotland and that was on the news a lot, but otherwise there have been lots of other cases in other regions.

What should we be doing to minimise the risks of getting swine flu?

The easiest thing we can do for ourselves is to keep our hands and faces clean.

Viruses spread readily on dirty hands so wash them properly three times a day or more with soap. The virus is destroyed by normal soap.

Are scientists any nearer find a cure for the virus?

We already have one drug called Tamiflu that people are being given when they get swine flu. That can help them not get so sick, and to get better more quickly.

The government are also ordering a vaccine for us that will be given to people to protect them against the virus. It may take several months before the vaccine is made in sufficient amounts for everyone, but it will be ready for the winter when it is most likely to be needed in the UK.

I'm really worried about swine flu.

You should not worry about this. Most people who have got swine flu have hardly been ill at all, just like having a cold.

There are lots of plans in place to help us cope with this new virus and all that has been happening recently is exactly what we have all thought would happen, and have been prepared for.