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As the spread of the H1N1 virus - more commonly known as swine flu - continues, Holiday Extras provides an overview of the first flu pandemic in 40 years and offers advice on how to avoid contracting the virus.
Swine flu is a respiratory disease caused by a strain of the influenza type A virus known as H1N1. Unlike ordinary flu, swine flu contains some elements of a virus found in pigs, with antigens (toxins inducing an immune response in the body) that no human body will have come across in the past. This means that no immunity will have been built up and that the risk of infection is raised.
Symptoms of swine flu are those typical symptoms found in regular influenza. A sudden fever of 38°C and above, a cough or shortness of breath are typical of swine flu, with other symptoms including tiredness, headaches, chills, sore throat, aching muscles, sneezing, runny nose and loss of appetite.
Since swine flu is a new virus and humans have no immunity, everyone is susceptible to contracting the disease. This risk of infection is the same for ordinary healthy adults as well as those with underlying medical conditions. However, the severity of the symptoms will differ according the individual.
Those identified as being at the greatest risk are: people with lung disease, heart disease, kidney disease or diabetes; those with immunosuppression problems either because of treatment or disease; patients who have had drug treatment for asthma; pregnant women; and children under five.
The UK government has been preparing for just such a flu pandemic, meaning that there is a stockpile of the two most commonly used drugs - Tamiflu and Relenza - to treat up to 33 million people in the UK.
Although antiviral drugs are not a cure and are most effective at an early stage of infection, the taking of the drugs will reduce the length of the illness and make it less likely that infected people will pass the virus on to others.
At present there is no vaccination against swine flu, with the government advising people to follow good hygiene practices. This will help slow the spread of the virus and act as the most effective way of avoiding the virus.
Government advice recommends that when you cough or sneeze it is important to prevent the spread of germs by following the maxim: 'Catch it. Bin it. Kill it.'
Always carry tissues; use clean tissues to cover your mouth and nose when you cough and sneeze; bin the tissues once used; and wash your hands with soap and hot water or use a sanitiser gel regularly.
All flu viruses are made up of tiny particles that can be spread through droplets emitted when you cough or sneeze. Therefore, failing to cover your nose and mouth appropriately means that droplets can spread for others to breathe in.
Following the government advice to avoid contracting swine flu (above) will limit the spread of the virus.
Dr Laurence Gerlis, health adviser with the Holiday Extras Expert Panel, says: "Travellers should try not to go on holiday if suffering or recovering from recent swine flu. Symptoms such as a cough, sneezing and high fever should be noted and it is likely that your airline will refuse to take you if you are obviously unwell. You will need five to seven days after an attack to be fit to travel."
In addition, travellers are advised to ensure they take out comprehensive travel insurance for their trip. This will cover them if they need to cancel their trip due to swine flu symptoms or if they catch the virus whilst abroad. Holiday Extras offers great value travel insurance from as little as £10 per person, based on one week in Europe.
Why not ask Dr Laurence Gerlis, part of the Holiday Extras Expert Panel, your questions regarding swine flu? Alternatively, you may prefer to share your own tips and advice on coping with swine flu or avoiding it altogether.
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