Right now it's hard to gauge whether we should all feel seriously threatened by a swine flu pandemic or reassured that those cases of people who have already got it are being treated comfortably at home. However, getting even regular colds or flu in pregnancy is bad enough, because there are often common over-the-counter treatments that doctors and pharmacists will advise against you taking.
But what about swine flu?
What is swine flu?
Swine flu is a form of flu which usually only affects pigs. It is not new and has affected herds of pigs in various parts of the world before. However, very rarely it has affected humans who live and work with pigs and this particular strain of the virus has now infected many more people than usual.
One of the reasons it can be such a cause for concern is that any form of flu mutates quickly and can, if not controlled and spread too quickly, become harder to treat. The current version of swine flu is highly contagious and, whilst it is treatable and not usually life-threatening, certainly groups of the community – such as the elderly or those with a weakened immunity to illness – could die.
Over recent weeks the UK government has been stockpiling treatments for swine flu in order to be prepared should the virus spread too quickly across the UK.
Am I more at risk from swine flu if I am pregnant?
Even normal flu can cause complications in pregnant women, especially in the second and third trimester of pregnancy. If you fall ill from flu-like symptoms, it is best to speak to your doctor as soon as possible to ensure that any physical symptoms are alleviated as soon as possible with antiviral drugs.
If an illness like swine flu or indeed regular flu is not cleared up quickly and leads to a problem such as a chest infection, you would require antibiotics.
If you do require any drugs, remind the doctor who is prescribing your medication that you are pregnant. If you are trying for a baby and are not sure if you are pregnant or not, it is wise to flag this up with your GP to be on the safe side. You can then be prescribed Relenza, which is deemed the pregnancy-safe antiviral option for this illness.
The same goes for any antibiotics you may need to be prescribed – so long as your GP is aware that you are or might be pregnant, pregnancy-safe options can be given. This is the MUCH safer way to proceed than trying to keep your pregnancy completely drug free, as untreated infection can seriously harm an unborn child.
Avoiding swine flu
Unfortunately, as we go about our daily lives, it is not possible to live in a protective bubble. However, you can reduce the risk of contracting (or indeed passing on) swine flu.
- Cover your nose and mouth if you need to sneeze, and dispose of the tissue at the first hygienic opportunity.
- Wash your hands regularly especially if you have been on public transport or in a public place. Use soap and water and a clean towel to dry them, and avoid touching your face with your hands until they are clean.
- Minimise hand contact with others without getting too paranoid! Again, just be aware of what you have been doing – wiping your nose etc – before you shake hands with another person.
- If you feel unwell stay home, have a rest and call your doctor if flu-like symptoms get worse.
- Keep hard surfaces clean such as door knobs, handrails, phone receivers etc, with regular cleaning products you have at home or your office.
For more information on symptoms, how the NHS deals with possible and confirmed cases of swine flu, and for any other concerns, go to www.nhs.uk.