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Swine Flu: Update
However, before becoming too worried, it's worth bearing in mind that the illness itself is not becoming more dangerous. Concerns over the mutation of H1N1 (the swine flu virus) have as yet not come to fruition, and the projected ‘worst-case scenario' number of deaths has plummeted to a fraction of previous estimates.
The other big development is that a vaccination programme is now underway for those considered most at risk. Read on to find out more about what swine flu is, where it's occurring, the UK's vaccination programme and how your travel insurance is affected.
So, what is swine flu?
Swine flu is an illness of the respiratory system, which originated in pigs and then passed on to humans. The symptoms are similar to regular flu. The principal symptom is a sudden fever (a temperature of 38°C and above), and sufferers may also experience coughing, sore throat, headaches and body aches, fatigue, and occasionally an upset stomach. It is estimated that 98% of people who contract swine flu will recover fully without the need for any hospital treatment*
To find out more about who's most at risk, and what you can do to try and prevent it, read general information about swine flu.
Where are outbreaks occurring?
The majority of cases have occurred in the Americas, as the initial spread of the infection occurred in Mexico. As such, the virus has spread widely to the US, Canada and the western countries of South America. Other countries affected at the time of writing include the Netherlands and Belgium, countries in the Middle East, India, South Africa and Australia.
To find out more about exactly where outbreaks are currently occurring worldwide, and the number of reported fatalities visit the World Health Organisation's H1N1 page and look at the latest ‘Situation Updates'.
What about vaccination?
A programme of vaccinations has been underway in the UK since the 21st of October 2009, targeting those highest at risk first, along with those who live with them. This "priority group" of 14 million includes people with health problems, such as lung or circulation disease, asthma or diabetes. Also included are those with diseases which compromise their immune systems, and pregnant women.
If you fall into the "priority group" then you should qualify for the first round of vaccinations. Your GP may have already contacted you. If not, then you could get in touch with your GP or go to Directgov's swine flu vaccination page to find out more. Vaccination is not compulsory, but it is advised. If you are pregnant and concerned about how the vaccine may affect your unborn, the government advise that it is safe. In fact, any negligible risk posed by the vaccine would be massively outweighed by the risk of actually contracting swine flu whilst pregnant.
Will my travel insurance cover me?
Many travel insurance providers will provide cover for swine flu. As with other conditions, the cover will be invalidated if the insurance was purchased after the policyholder falls ill. Nonetheless, cover is available for those who have to cancel their travel plans due to illness, or because they have been warned against travelling.
It's always a good idea to see whether the government are advising against travelling to your chosen destination by visiting the Foreign & Commonwealth Office website. Not only can you find out the latest information about any spread of swine flu in the country, but also any other concerns - such as political unrest, crime, risk of terrorism, and other illnesses prevalent in the area.
*Professor Peter Openshaw, Imperial College London