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Swine Flu

Swine Flu Vaccination Is It Neccessary ? By Annette J Dunlea

Published in The Carrigdhoun Newspaper 29th Jan 2011 p.9

Swine flu (swine influenza) is a respiratory disease caused by viruses (influenza viruses) that infect the respiratory tract of pigs and result in nasal secretions, a barking-like cough, decreased appetite, and listless behavior. Swine flu produces most of the same symptoms in pigs as human flu produces in people. Swine influenza, also called pig influenza, swine flu, hog flu and pig flu, is an infection by any one of several types of swine influenza virus. As of 2009, the known SIV strains include influenza C and the subtypes of influenza A known as H1N1, H1N2, H3N1, H3N2, and H2N3.Swine influenza virus is common throughout pig populations worldwide. The symptoms of a typical flu are a sudden fever, headache, muscle aches, a dry cough and sore throat. Swine flu is just as transmissible as the seasonal flu.The H1N1 swine flu virus first emerged in April 2009 and accounted for 98% of all flu cases seen in Ireland last year.The World Health Organisation said last year that it regards vaccination as the most effective way to prevent flu infection. This year’s seasonal flu vaccine (available from GPs) includes protection against swine flu.

Who should get the vaccine according to the HSE:

Pregnant women - from 14 weeks pregnant to 6 weeks after giving birth

All those newly diagnosed in the ‘at risk’ group i.e. anyone aged over 6 months and under 65 years who has:

Long-term Lung Disease (like Asthma and Cystic Fibrosis)

Long-term Heart Disease

Long-term Kidney Disease

Long-term Liver Disease

Long-term Neurological Disease (like MS, Cerebral Palsy)

Immunosuppression e.g. cancer treatment (and their household contacts)

Haemoglobinopathies

Diabetes

Morbid Obesity (check with your GP)

All those travelling to the Southern hemisphere during the upcoming influenza season.

Why are pregnant women included this year?

Healthy pregnant women and women up to six weeks after giving birth who have not previously received the swine flu vaccine are urged to get the seasonal flu vaccination this year as they are at a higher risk of complications from swine flu. Pregnant women who have a long-term medical condition such as diabetes, heart or lung disease need to get the seasonal flu vaccine, even if they have already had the swine flu vaccine. This year’s seasonal flu vaccine can be given at any stage of pregnancy and will also protect the baby. The vaccine is also safe for breastfeeding mothers and their babies. In the US flu vaccine has been routinely recommended for all pregnant women for many years. Of particular interest to pregnant women is that the annual flu vaccine does not contain the adjuvant (aluminium) or thiomersal, (a mercury based preservative), which were part of one of the swine flu vaccines during last year’s pandemic.

The vaccine is readily available. It takes just a few minutes. There's really no reason not to do it. Fewer people are reporting flu jab reactions. Cases of swine flu (H1N1) in the Republic of Ireland have increased from 30 to 91 in a week according to the country's Health Protection Surveillance Centre . Increased numbers of reported swine flu cases came as children return to school. The vaccine is available free of charge through GPs and maternity hospitals. Pregnant women from 14 weeks to 6 weeks after birth and those in the at risk group are still advised to get vaccinated. This is important, as in previous pandemics there have been second waves of the flu.People with either a Medical Card or GP Visit Card will not be charged to visit the doctor for the flu vaccine. General practitioners charge a consultation fee to administer the vaccine to patients without a Medical Card or GP Visit Card, however the vaccine is supplied free of charge. In addition to flu vaccination, everyone in the risk groups should also receive *pneumococcal vaccine which is available free of charge from General Practitioners. Pneumococcal vaccine is not required every year – most people only need to get it once, so those at risk should check with their General Practitioner.

Children and young adults were the most affected groups with 80% of cases being less than 35 years of age. In excess of 1,000 cases of confirmed pandemic (H1N1) 2009 have been hospitalised to date and 100 admitted to Intensive Care Units. There were 27 deaths, all but two of which were in the ‘at risk’ groups and most involved other substantial underlying medical conditions.Flu vaccine offers the best protection for those at high risk for seasonal influenza. If you are in a risk group and haven’t had the flu vaccine, it is recommended that you make an appointment with your general practitioner now to have it.Based on advice from the World Health Organisation (WHO),this year the seasonal flu vaccine contains three common flu virus strains. The swine flu virus strain is included in the seasonal flu vaccine. There are no safety concerns of administering the seasonal flu vaccine to those who have previously received the swine flu vaccine. Seasonal flu vaccines have been given for more than 60 years to millions of people across the world. Reactions are generally mild and serious side effects are very rare.

Most people will not experience severe infections and will be able to recover fully at home instead of receiving hospital treatment, the HSE says.The director of public health Dr Carolyn Harper called for public calm despite the publication of figures showing the spread of the disease.The public should therefore not be unduly concerned. We see flu every year , the trend in deaths is no different from normal flu seasons and is certainly lower than what we saw during the [2010] pandemic."The data has been released because of the levels of public concern, she said, adding that those in at-risk groups should attend their doctor for the flu jab. "The majority of those who develop swine flu recover within a few days," she said.Two days ago it was confirmed that some 200 people had contracted the disease and that those in the 15-44 age group were the most severely affected.For the majority of people flu remains a mild, self-limiting, often unpleasant infection, but nonetheless the vast majority recover," Dr Harper said.

The HSE has ordered additional stocks of the flu vaccine in an effort to combat swine flu.During Christmas week, some 91 cases of the H1N1 virus were detected – more than double the number detected the previous week, the Health Protection Surveillance Centre. According to the HSE there has already been "a major rise in people attending GPs and GP out-of-hours services with flu like illnesses.

Meanwhile, a European study on last year’s influenza immunisation programme, published this week, showed Ireland was the only country of nine which began its pandemic vaccination programme after the illness had peaked.Last winter, the H1N1 Influenza, better known as swine flu, accounted for 98pc of all flu cases seen in Ireland. It is now the predominant flu virus in circulation but unlike last year the H1N1 strain is now covered by the seasonal flu vaccine.HSE Dr Kevin Kelleher confirmed that almost all of the 650,000 doses of the seasonal flu vaccine delivered in September have been administered. A further 30,000 measures of the vaccine have now been order and are "in the course of being delivered".Of the 120 notified confirmed cases, nine cases were in the 0-4 year age group, 10 cases were aged 5-14, 95 were in the 15-64 age group, four cases were aged 65 or older and age was unknown for two cases.Nearly one in three swine flu patients who are seriously ill in hospital intensive care units had no previous health problems, it has emerged.Around 70pc were suffering from such illnesses as respiratory disease, heart disease, diabetes, or they were pregnant.People are being urged to go to their GP rather than turn up at under-pressure hospital emergency departments if they have flu-like symptoms. Swine flu is also continuing to cause life-threatening complications in people who were otherwise healthy.Ireland is currently seeing the highest rates of flu on record with two deaths this winter. A team of experts has been drafted in to sort out hospitals where A&E overcrowding and trolley gridlock is worst. This level of emergency overcrowding has increased the risks of swine flu and other contagious diseases spreading.

Experts recommend that people who suspect that they have H1N1 infection stay home and avoid contact with other people. The only time you should leave home is to access medical care if needed. That said, it is important to remember that the vast majority of flu cases (even H1N1 cases) produce only a mild illness for which doctor's visits and/or antiviral drugs are not necessary. So, the presence of cough and fever in an individual who is not at high risk for complications and who does not have warning signs of a medical emergency should not be a reason to visit an ER. The emergency department should be used for the treatment of people who are very sick or who have life-threatening emergencies. If you're in doubt, see your local doctor, district nurse or ask your local pharmacist for advice.

The End