Swine flu

What is it? What are the symptoms? What are the treatments?

What is swine flu?

Swine flu, also known as H1N1 influenza because it's caused by a strain of H1N1 virus, is a highly contagious type of flu. It was much publicised between 2009-10 when it swept the globe. When a virus becomes this widespread it's known as a pandemic. The pandemic in 2009-10 ended in August of 2010, but it's expected to re-emerge over the next few winters.

The seasonal flu vaccine is adapted to include any new flu strains, and it's offered to all people in high risk groups, such as anyone with chronic illness, suppressed immune systems, diabetics, the elderly and all pregnant women, among others. Because swine flu is a relatively new virus, lots of people are uncertain about the wisdom of vaccination and feel suspicious about possible after-effects, but there is no evidence the seasonal flu vaccine, which is an inactivated vaccine, will cause any harm to mums-to-be or their unborn babies. All expectant mums, whether or not they're in any of the other at-risk groups, should have the vaccine, whatever their stage of pregnancy. Otherwise, they're believed to be more at risk of complications like pneumonia, dehydration and breathing difficulties.

What are the symptoms of Swine flu?

According to NHS Choices, if you or a member of your family has a fever (temperature over 38°C) and two or more of the following symptoms, you may have swine flu:

  • unusual tiredness
  • headache
  • runny nose
  • sore throat
  • shortness of breath
  • cough
  • loss of appetite
  • aching muscles
  • vomiting or diarrhoea.

If you think you have swine flu and are worried, contact your GP, who will advise you on what to do next.

What are the treatments and remedies of Swine flu?

Most people recover within a week without special medication. However, if you're pregnant, you might be offered antiviral drugs. The first choice is Relenza, which is an inhaled medication that doesn't cross the placenta in any significant amount and won't affect your baby. The alternative if you can't take an inhaler or if you have an underlying complication that makes it unsuitable is Tamiflu, which is taken in tablet form.

Tamiflu might also be offered to other people with swine flu if the symptoms are severe. It's not a cure, but can help to shorten the length of the illness and relieve the symptoms. Antibiotics are only given if swine flu leads to more complications, such as pneumonia.

If you've been infected or have come into contact with swine flu, you should avoid spreading the virus by sneezing or coughing into a tissue, then flushing it straight away or putting it in a bin and washing your hands. Also, clean hard surfaces like worktops, door furniture and other hard furniture, regularly to avoid hand-to-mouth transference of the virus through contact. Self-help includes taking paracetamol or ibuprofen (just paracetamol if you're pregnant) to relieve symptoms and bring down a fever, resting and drinking plenty of fluids. You should avoid going to your GP's surgery if you have swine flu or have been in contact with someone who has, as it's so contagious.

This guide 

The information in this Bounty A-Z of Family Health is not a substitute for an examination, diagnosis or treatment by a doctor, midwife, health visitor or any other qualified health professional. If in doubt, always speak to a doctor.

Bounty will not be held responsible or liable for any injury, loss, damage, or illness, however this occurs or appears, after using the information given on this website and in particular the A-Z of Family Health.

Further help

For health advice and information 24 hours a day, 365 days a year, the NHS offers call and web services. You can also visit NHS websites for services, health information and health news at nhs.uk 

  • England – call 111 from any landline or mobile phone free of charge, or visit nhs.uk 
  • Scotland – call 111 from any landline or mobile phone free of charge, or visit nhs24.com 
  • Wales – call 0845 4647 , or visit nhsdirect.wales.nhs.uk 
  • Northern Ireland – visit hscni.net


Swine flu