Swine Flu Vaccination

Concerns about swine flu have been widespread and fuelled by the media in recent years. In this article we look at swine flu and its consequences, as well as the current vaccination options available against the infection.

What is swine flu?

The flu virus, known medically as the influenza virus, is one that has posed a unique clinical problem for many years. The virus itself is extremely adaptable, constantly changing and forming new strains that are subtly different, and therefore in need of their own treatment and immunisation procedures. Swine flu is the generic name given to a relatively new strain of influenza, also known as the H1N1 strain.

H1N1 spreads like any other cold or flu, through sneezing and coughing which releases countless minute droplets harbouring the virus into the air, onto clothes, skin, and surfaces. Impressively enough a single sneeze or cough can propel these droplets as far as a metre, and once they land on a surface the virus contained within can survive for as long as a day. This means that any contact with skin or clothes that then results in contact with the mouth or nose can result in transmission. This is why the virus can spread so quickly and is a concern to health authorities.

A swine flu epidemic hit the UK between 2009 and 2010, and since then concern about the condition has been widespread. In truth these concerns are justified in some ways, as the H1N1 strain is very contagious and can cause serious complications amongst certain populations, the elderly and the pregnant for example. That being said, as of August 2010 the H1N1 outbreak was deemed over by the leading international health authority (WHO – World Health Organisation).

Symptoms and treatment of swine flu

The symptoms of swine flu are fairly similar to the symptoms of any other type of flu. These include a high fever (over 38 degrees Celsius), a loss of appetite, diarrhoea and/or vomiting, sore throat, coughing, fatigue, headache, and a runny nose.

In most cases swine flu won’t be a concern, like any of other flu it will pass after a few days of discomfort and sickness. In these cases the best treatment would be bed rest, ensuring that you remain well hydrated, and flu medications available at any chemist’s.

H1N1 is only a major concern amongst high-risk groups, and in these cases symptoms can be more severe and more direct treatment might be needed. Because of how contagious swine flu is, it can spread amongst a community very quickly and affect these high-risk groups.

People who can suffer at the hands of H1N1 include:

  • Anyone aged 65 or over – with age the immune system weakens and can struggle to cope with the virus.
  • Pregnant women – pregnancy can result in a weakening of the immune system also rendering women susceptible to the flu virus.
  • Chronic heart, kidney, liver, lung, or neurological conditions.
  • People suffering from diabetes.
  • The immunosuppressed – anyone suffering from a condition that affects the function of the immune system. This includes cancer patients receiving treatment or suffering from HIV.

In these cases serious complications can occur as a consequence of H1N1 infection. These include pneumonia and other respiratory problems which can pose a serious risk to the health of high-risk individuals.

Treatment is offered through anti-viral agents to people in high-risk categories or at risk of transmitting the flu to someone in a high-risk category. These agents include zanamivir and oseltamivir, and despite their use, the emphasis remains on prevention as far as the NHS and NICE (National Institute for Health and Clinical Excellence) are concerned.

The swine flu pandemic

Although the pandemic is officially over, the H1N1 strain is still a major concern in the coming flu seasons. This is why preventative measures are so important, and key to those is the seasonal flu jab offered to groups particularly vulnerable to the disease.

About the swine flu vaccination

Prevention is perhaps the most important weapon against swine flu, and vaccination is therefore an effective method of stopping the spread of the disease. Because it is such a concern, H1N1 is one of the influenza strains vaccinated against by the seasonal flu jab. This injection is offered on a yearly basis to people in the high-risk groups discussed above. The vaccine is given free to these groups, but it is possible to arrange vaccination privately if you are worried about transmission but don’t fall into a high-risk category.

The JCVI (Joint Committee on Vaccination and Immunisation) is an authority informing immunisation schedules in the UK. This organisation has advised the administration of the seasonal flu jab to children between 2 and 17 years of age, and the hope is that this scheme will be introduced by 2014.

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