Friday, 1 May 2009

Setting the facts straight

The world's media came to Torbay this week with the news that 12-year-old Amy Whitehouse from Paignton had contracted swine flu. It sent the area into something approaching blind panic and as always happens in these cases the facts got lost in the fog.

So, just for accuracy's sake, here is the government advice on what to do avoid getting the flu, and what to do if you get it.

To reduce the risk of catching or spreading the virus you should:
cover your mouth and nose when coughing and sneezing, using a tissue
throw the tissue away quickly and carefully
wash your hands regularly with soap and water clean hard surfaces (like door handles and remote controls) frequently with a normal cleaning product

You can prepare now for a possible pandemic by:
always carrying tissues - catching the germs in a tissue could help limit the spread of the virus
know your NHS number (this will be in NHS letters or prescriptions)
keep up to date with the latest help and advice available through radio, TV and the internet
confirming your ‘flu friends’ - these are friends and neighbours who can help you if you become ill; they could get your medication or food for you so that you don’t have to leave the house - this will help stop the virus from spreading
have a two-week stock of food and other supplies in case you and your family are ill

If you have the flu
Catching swine flu will feel like seasonal flu, so:
stay at home and rest
take medicines like aspirin, ibuprofen or paracetamol (following the instructions – children under 16 should not be given aspirin or ready made flu remedies)
drink plenty of fluids

If you are still concerned, you can call:
NHS Direct on 0845 4647 in England
NHS 24 on 08454 24 24 24 in Scotland
NHS Direct Wales on 0845 4647 in Wales
0800 0514 142 in Northern Ireland
They will give you advice on your symptoms and the next steps you should take.
Contact your doctor if you develop complications, like a shortness of breath - but don't go to the surgery yourself, ask your ‘flu friend’ to go for you.

Vaccines are used to help fight seasonal flu but a vaccine for this strain of swine flu will take time to create.

Antiviral drugs
Antiviral drugs work by preventing the flu virus from reproducing - to be effective you need to take them within 48 hours of the onset of symptoms. This means the illness may be shortened by a day and reduce the risk of complications. Read the section above, ‘if you have the flu’ before contacting your doctor about antiviral drugs.

Face masks
Although face masks have been given out in Mexico, there is no actual evidence that proves wearing a face mask will stop you getting the virus. It’s more effective to use tissues when sneezing and coughing and wash your hands regularly.

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