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Face up to the real facts on swine flu; As the number of Merseysiders contracting swine flu grows daily and the total number of UK related deaths stands at 30, Greg O'Keeffe asks the key questions about the virus.

QIS it only people with underlying illnesses who are dying of swine flu? A

No. Even with ordinary seasonal flu there are still deaths in people who do not have a prior illness, therefore we can expect to see this with swine flu. But for the majority of people, swine flu is a mild illness.

QAre schools set to close in the Autumn to help curb the number of swine flu infections?

A It's unlikely. Although infection experts have argued that a school closure programme could cut the number of cases by up to 45%, the Government say it is a last resort.

QWill there be a vaccine available soon?

A Vaccine doses will be available in the UK later this year when the Government will decide on which social groups to prioritise. Eventually they hope to have enough vaccines to treat most of the population.

Q Are pregnant women more likely to catch swine flu? A

Yes. Pregnant women are more susceptible to all infections, because their immune system is naturally suppressed in pregnancy. They are vulnerable to swine flu, as this virus is affecting younger age groups in particular.

QShould women avoid getting pregnant during the swine flu pandemic?

A The Department of Health says not. Yet would-be mothers are advised to talk to their GP and plan the pregnancy carefully.

Q What precautions should pregnant women take? A

Pregnant women are not advised to avoid crowded places or make any major changes to their normal routine, but they could be if the virus reaches a level of one in three of the population.

Q Which people are most vulnerable from swine flu? A

Those who are more at risk from becoming seriously ill with swine flu are: people with chronic lung disease, including people who have had drug treatment for their asthma within the past three years, people with chronic heart disease, kidney disease, liver disease, neurological disease, people with suppressed immune systems, diabetics, pregnant women, people aged 65 years and older, and young children under five years old.

Q What exactly is swine flu and is it a virus? A

Swine influenza is a disease in pigs.

The virus currently transmitting among people is now generally referred to as swine flu, although the origin of the disease is still under investigation. There is no evidence of this strain of the disease circulating in pigs in the UK. There are regular outbreaks of swine influenza in pigs worldwide. It does not normally infect humans, although this occasionally occurs in people who have had close contact with pigs. Swine influenza viruses are usually of the H1N1 subtype. The swine flu that has spread to humans is a version of this virus.

QIs it still safe to eat pig meat such as bacon and pork chops?

A Yes. The World Health Organisation says there is no evidence that swine flu can be transmitted through eating meat from infected animals. However, it is essential to cook meat properly. A temperature of 70C (158F) would be sure to kill the virus.

QWhy is swine flu affecting humans? A

Because the swine flu virus has changed and is now able to infect humans and transmit between them.

Q How does it spread from person to person? A

Swine flu spreads in the same way as ordinary colds and flu. The virus is spread through the droplets that come out of the nose or mouth when someone coughs or sneezes. If someone coughs or sneezes and they do not cover it, those droplets can spread about one metre. If you are very close to the person you might breathe them in.

Q Is it possible to catch swine flu twice? A

Yes, because the virus can change. If you become infected with the swine flu virus, your body produces antibodies against it, which will recognise and fight off the virus if the body ever encounters again. However, if the virus mutates, your immune system may not recognise this different strain and you may become ill again.

. If you think you have swine flu do not go to your GP surgery, pharmacy or A& E, stay at home. Use the symptom checker at www.nhs.co.uk. Call the swine flu hotline on 0800 151 3513.

Online guide Visit our swine flu online guide at www.liverpoolecho.co.uk /swineflu
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Publication:Liverpool Echo (Liverpool, England)
Date:Jul 22, 2009
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