H1N1 Influenza 09 (Human Swine Flu) enters new ‘PROTECT” phase
NSW has moved to the new PROTECT Phase as at 18 June 2009. The key aims of the PROTECT phase are to:
- identify people who may be at risk of more severe illness, in order to provide them with early treatment for influenza;
- treat people with moderate or severe influenza-related illness
- control outbreaks in high-risk settings, such as special schools and residential care facilities.
Given the new focus of the PROTECT phase, certain measures employed at earlier stages of the national response have been adjusted to ensure they support the change in response.
What is the purpose of the PROTECT phase?
The NSW health system’s goal in the PROTECT phase is to minimise the impact of an influenza pandemic on the health of the community and the health sector.
What has changed?
There is now a focus on early identification and treatment of those with underlying medical conditions, and for all people who have moderate or severe disease. Swine Flu has proved to have a lower virulence than predicted.
Exclusions in relation to certain countries no longer apply. Persons who were quarantined and not showing flu-like symptoms, can now return to work. People quarantined with symptoms should continue to stay away from work and study.
Other measures previously employed such as the cancellation of gatherings with large numbers of people will cease.
Border measures aimed to delay entry of the virus will now be redirected to providing information to travellers. Information will include advice about what to do if you develop symptoms of influenza and how to protect yourself if you get sick.
What is Swine Flu?
Swine influenza (swine flu) is a respiratory disease of pigs caused by type A (H1N1) influenza. Swine flu viruses do not normally infect humans, however, human infections with swine flu do occur, and cases of human-to-human spread of a swine flu virus have been recently confirmed.
Human cases of swine influenza A (H1N1) virus have been confirmed in Australia with people testing positive in most states.
Swine flu influenza A (H1N1) is a new form of influenza virus first identified in the United States, Mexico and Canada in April 2009. The World Health Organisation has declared the swine flue influenza situation to be a public health emergency of international concern.
The pandemic alert level has been raised by the World Health Organisation. This event is a concern because:
- Swine influenza is derived from an animal influenza virus, which means that humans will likely have little or no immunity.
- There has been a rapid spread to multiple communities overseas.
- Swine influenza is affecting unusual age groups (healthy, young adults)
The Swine influenza A (H1N1) virus is thought to be sensitive to the new antiviral drugs oseltamivir (Tamiflu) and zanamivir (Relenza), but resistant to both amanatadine and rimantadine.
Who is at increased risk of severe illness?
Some people have found to be more likely to develop severe illness from both seasonal influenza and Swine Flu. This group includes people who:
- are pregnant (particularly in the second and third trimester)
- have chronic lung disease (including asthma)
- are very obese
- have chronic heart conditions; chronic kidney disease; chronic liver disease
- have blood disorders (including sickle cells disease)
- have neurological disorders
- have metabolic disorders (such as diabetes)
- have weakened or suppressed immune systems (which may be caused by cancers, medications or HIV/AIDS)
- are of Aboriginal or Torres Strait Islander background (of any age)
What should people do if they develop symptoms and they are in any of the above vulnerable categories?
They should immediately contact their doctor and follow the doctor’s instructions. The doctor will determine the treatment. Certain medications have been reserved for people who are at increased risk of developing severe illness. If anyone has trouble accessing their doctor they can attend their closest hospital with a ‘flu clinic’ for assessment. It is important that they seek assessment and treatment as soon as possible after developing symptoms as the medication will be more effective, the earlier it is commenced.
The symptoms of Swine Flu in people are similar to the symptoms of regular human influenza and include:
- sore throat
- body aches
- chills; and
Some people have also reported diarrhoea and vomiting.
Measures to reduce the risk of contracting flu
Further precautions that individuals can take to minimise the spread of Swine Flu, include:
- Avoid or minimise exposure to “high risk” locations, such as hospitals, educational establishments, sporting and entertainment venues, airports, nursing homes and public transport
- Maintain a safe distance from others who appear to have flu-like symptoms
- Avoid touching the eyes, nose or mouth
- Carry and use alcohol wipes to clean hands and commonly used objects, such as phones
- Avoid touching public items, such as handrails and shopping carts
- When necessary to touch public items, immediately use alcohol-based wipes to clean hands
- Cover nose and mouth with a disposable tissue when sneezing or coughing
- Wash or wipe hands after sneezing or coughing
- Immediately dispose of used wipes and tissues
- Wear a face mask when in “high risk” locations, such as when travelling on public transport
Note that vulnerable (such as immunocompromised or pregnant) individuals may need to take additional precautions and will need to be individually assessed.
- NSW Health swine flu information http://www.health.nsw.gov.au/publichealth/swine_flu.asp
- NSW Health influenza factsheet (usual human influenza) http://www.health.nsw.gov.au/factsheets/infectious/influenza.html
- Australian Government Department of Health and Ageing http://www.health.gov.au/
- World Health Organization http://www.who.int/
- Travel Advice (Australian Government Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade) http://www.smartraveller.gov.au
- U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention http://www.cdc.gov/swineflu