The latest news this month about Swine Flu from those in the know. We asked one doctor for the headlines
First of all, what exactly is swine flu? It’s a type of influenza; a virus with specifically H1N1 strain. There are many types of flu. This version was first detected in the US in April 2009 and is now classed as a pandemic, which means it can be passed from person to person over a wide area or countries, even continents.
What are the symptoms? It is a type of flu, and the symptoms are all the same – nasal congestion, coughing, body pains. The difference with this flu is with the genes that make up the virus – there are two that normally circulate in pigs in Europe and Asia, plus one bird (avian) and one human gene.
What happens if you get a swine flu case? If we suspect a patient has swine flu, we inform the Ministry of Health. They will analyse a swab in the public health laboratory. If positive, the patient and doctor are informed. Depending on the severity of the case and the presence of risk factor, we will tell a person to go home to recover in isolation, or we will send them to Salmaniya Medical Centre, where the government has set up a whole building dedicated to treating the virus.
Why is it best to isolate swine flu patients? Any flu can be transmitted respitorially. The day before you display the symptoms, you can still be contagious, and from showing the symptoms you can infect others for around seven days. It is passed in air droplets, so coughing or sneezing puts others at risk, and even touching surfaces – a virus can survive on a surface for up to eight hours.
Have you seen many cases of swine flu yourself? We have only had six confirmed at this hospital. We do get a lot of people worried that the symptoms they have are swine flu, because it is so prominent in the media, but a lot of the time it is not the case. Anyone pregnant, elderly, children under five, or anyone suffering from diabetes, renal failure, heart disease, immuno-suppressed patients, chronic obstructive pulmonary disease, they are classed as the highest risk category and could develop complications – which is what can be life threatening, rather than the flu itself – so we would send them to Salmaniya. That is the Ministry’s protocol. Is the best form of treatment still Tamiflu? Yes. Treatment with the drug is usually effective within 48 hours. The best thing to do if you have the virus is to isolate yourself – in one room – and keep in mind universal precautions, like covering your mouth and washing your hands. You will recover as you do with any other flu. All cases so far in Bahrain have fully recovered.
So why is it in the media so much? It is something new. Remember avian flu, when that was first discovered? Swine flu was only found recently and classed as a pandemic so quickly. If it is being treated, and we know what the symptoms are, does that mean the number of cases is decreasing? It’s too early to tell. Now is the season for travel, so we may have a lot of people getting infected or displaying symptoms. It’s a pandemic, so it can be picked up anywhere. The thing to bear in mind is infection control – so you know where it is from, and you know what to do. The Ministry here is taking the necessary steps to ensure people are educated, and that they can get treatment easily.
Will it be possible to get a flu vaccination, as is the case with seasonal flu? The vaccination for H1N1 is still under trial, but if successful it could mean that it is made available later in the year. Thanks to Bahrain Specialist Hospital, Juffair. Contact 17 812 000 and see www.bsh.com.bh.