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An update on swine flu

                                   February 2010  

  
An update on swine flu

swine fluSwine flu was the big fright of last autumn. Now that things haven’t appeared to be quite as bad as many people thought, we may be off our guard and too relaxed about the threat still posed by swine flu.

The Department of Health has just issued the following information for people over 65; the first section is just general information and then, at the bottom, there is a section relating to various “myths” about swine flu.

There is still a lot of winter weather to come, so knowing more about swine flu can only be a good thing.

1. In a major step, there is now a vaccine available to fight swine flu – this is the first pandemic for which we have had vaccine to protect people.

2. The vaccine uses an inactivated form of the virus so it can not make you sick. The vaccine will work by tricking the immune system into thinking it has been infected with the H1N1 swine flu virus so that it creates antibodies against it.

3. People aged 65 and over who are in the seasonal flu vaccine at-risk groups will be one of the first groups of people to be called for the vaccine as they are far more likely to have serious health complications if they catch swine flu.

4. Those aged 65 and over in at-risk groups include people with chronic respiratory disease, such as chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD), chronic heart disease, such as heart failure, chronic kidney disease, such as kidney failure, chronic liver disease, such as chronic hepatitis, chronic neurological disease, such as Parkinson's disease, or diabetes requiring insulin or oral hypoglycaemic drugs.

5. People aged 65 and over who are otherwise healthy are not a priority group as they appear to have some natural immunity to the swine flu virus. Surveillance has shown fewer swine flu cases in people aged 65 and over than in younger people.

6. The swine flu vaccine is different to the seasonal flu vaccination, which will not protect against swine flu. If those aged 65 and over in an at-risk group are normally advised to have the seasonal flu vaccine every winter, they need to continue to receive this to ensure they are protected against most of the flu strains in circulation. The swine flu vaccine can be given at the same time as the seasonal flu jab.

7. Frontline health and social care workers will also be offered the vaccine at the same time as the first clinical at-risk groups to protect you, as they are both at an increased risk of catching swine flu and of spreading it to at-risk patients.

8. Possible complications from swine flu are pneumonia (an infection of the lungs), difficulty breathing and in the very worst cases, may even result in death. The common side effects of the vaccine are a sore arm, fatigue, headache or dizziness.

9. You can only be certain that you have had swine flu if it was confirmed by a laboratory test. Otherwise, you may have had normal flu or something else. Unless you know for sure that you have had swine flu, and are in one of the high-risk groups, you should have the vaccination.

10. If you are aged 65 and over and in one of the at-risk groups, you may already have been or you will be contacted by your GP inviting you to go to an immunisation clinic or make an appointment at their surgery – either by letter or in some instances by text or phone (depending on postal strikes).

The swine flu pandemic is being closely monitored by the Department of Health. You can sign up for email alerts on the latest here: www.nhs.uk, or visit www.direct.gov.uk/swineflu for further information.

Department of Health: Swine Flu Vaccine

Myth Busters – for mature media audience

Myth: Swine flu isn’t that serious so there’s no need for those aged 65 or over who are in the seasonal flu vaccine at-risk groups to get vaccinated.

Swine flu causes mild symptoms in most people, generally lasting for about a week, but people aged 65 or over who are in at-risk groups are more likely to be seriously ill with swine flu. They include people with long-term health conditions such as diabetes, chronic heart, kidney, liver or neurological diseases like multiple sclerosis, or those whose immune system is affected by a disease or treatment for a disease. In some cases, people may need to be treated in hospital for complications such as pneumonia or difficulty breathing, and in the very worst cases, may die.

Myth: The vaccine hasn’t been properly tested and isn’t safe for those aged 65 and over with underlying health conditions.

The vaccines have been licensed by the European authorities and would not have been if they were considered unsafe. In preparing for a pandemic, appropriate clinical trials to assess safety have been carried out on vaccines very similar to the swine flu vaccine. The vaccines have been shown to have a good safety profile.
Scientific evidence from trials suggest the risk of a serious reaction is extremely small – and far outweighed by the risk of becoming seriously ill from the swine flu virus itself, especially if you have an underlying health condition.

Myth: The vaccine will give those aged 65 and over in an at-risk group swine flu.


The vaccine does not carry a ‘live’ virus, so it cannot give swine flu to those aged 65 and over in at-risk groups being vaccinated. Some may experience mild symptoms like fever, headache and muscle aches as their immune system responds to the vaccine, but this is not flu and will usually disappear in one or two days without treatment.

Myth: Everyone aged 65 and over is a priority group for receiving the swine flu vaccine.

People aged 65 and over who are otherwise healthy are not a swine flu priority group as they appear to have some natural immunity to the swine flu virus. Surveillance has shown fewer swine flu cases in people aged 65 and over than in younger people. However, people aged 65 and over who are in the at-risk group for seasonal flu are likely to be more seriously ill and are a priority group.

Myth: There’s no need for people to get the vaccine if they think they’ve already had swine flu.


Unless a case of swine flu has been confirmed by a laboratory test, most people cannot be certain that they have had the disease, or that they will be protected if the virus mutates. People in the priority groups, such as those aged 65 and over who are at-risk are therefore recommended to receive the vaccination unless they have had a positive test for swine flu.

Myth: If you have the seasonal flu jab, you don’t need the swine flu vaccine.


The seasonal flu vaccination will not protect people against swine flu. People in the at-risk groups for the swine flu vaccine should get both jabs to ensure they are protected against both swine flu and the other flu strains in circulation. If those aged 65 and over in an at-risk group are normally advised to have the seasonal flu vaccine every winter, they need to continue to receive this to ensure they are protected.

Myth: If you don’t usually catch the flu, you won’t catch swine flu.

Swine flu is caused by a new strain of the influenza virus called H1N1. Because it is a new type of flu virus, no one has immunity to it and everyone could be at risk of catching and spreading it.

Myth: Those aged 65 and over in at-risk groups need to stay at home after receiving the vaccine.

Those receiving the vaccination can return to their normal routine straight after the jab or in between doses if two are required. As the vaccines do not contain a live virus they do not make a person infectious.

Myth: There’s no point getting the vaccine as it won’t protect me if the swine flu virus mutates.

While it is impossible to predict if or how the virus will change, experience with the similar vaccine for the bird flu (H5N1) strain suggests the swine flu vaccine would provide a high level of protection from closely related strains.

Myth: As health professionals will be vaccinated, there is no need for those in their care to receive the vaccine.


Health and social care workers are at an increased risk of catching and spreading swine flu to people in their care and will therefore be offered the vaccine at the same time as those in priority groups. However, as it is not compulsory for health and social care workers to be vaccinated, it is important that those over-65 at-risk groups in their care receive the vaccine to ensure protection.

 


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