By Dr Lily Wong, MBBS (UK) MRCGP DRCOG BPharm (UK)
As was to be expected, Swine Flu (H1N1) has hit Hong Kong following the arrival from Mexico — via Shanghai — of an infected 25-year-old. As a result, we joined much of the rest of the world in moving to “emergency” status for our pandemic response level. Hong Kong is bracing for the global flu pandemic.
Flu is an upper respiratory tract infection and symptoms can include a fever, lethargy, loss of appetite and coughing. Some people who are infected with human swine flu may also have a runny nose, sore throat and suffer from nausea, vomiting and diarrhoea.
Flu itself is rarely fatal however the new flu virus is a mixture of Asian and European bird flu, swine flu from the US and finally, human flu virus. WHO has identified people with chronic medical conditions, the elderly (65+), pregnant women, and young children as being particularly vulnerable where infection can cause a rapid deterioration and complications such as Pneumonia.
The mode of transmission is thought to occur in the same way as seasonal flu, that is by being in close proximity to someone with the infection who coughs or sneezes. We can pick up the virus through airborne particles, or by touching recently contaminated areas and then touching our own mouths or noses.
As yet we don’t believe it can be transmitted through eating pork, and cooking pork to 70°C kills the swine flu virus.
What measures can I take help prevent the spread of the infection?
- Hand hygiene: wash hands frequently with soap and water for at least 10 seconds. Alcohol-based hand cleaners are also effective
- Cover your mouth and nose when coughing or sneezing with a tissue and dispose of it promptly.
- Avoid close contact with people who are unwell and who have a fever and/or cough.
- The effectiveness of the general facemask use is still debatable. However if you are caring for someone with a flu-like illness, a mask may be worn to cover the nose and mouth to reduce the risk of transmission.
- If you are sick with a flu-like illness, stay home for seven days after your symptoms begin, or until you have been symptom free for 24 hours, whichever is longer.
- At a time like this, it is even more important than ever to build and maintain a good immunity level. Eat plenty of fresh fruit and vegetables, keep up with regular exercise, get plenty of rest, and try to take at least 1000mcg of vitamin C each day.
Authorities expect that most people will recover without needing medical care. However, if you have a severe illness or you are at risk from flu complications, seek medical care.
Antiviral medications such as Tamiflu may be effective in treating those who become severely ill. However, as with all prescription medication, sometimes the drugs can be associated with serious side effects.