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Swine Flu

Adios! Swine Flu Pandemic Over!

On 11th August 2010 the WHO officially declared the end of the H1N1 'swine flu' pandemic, which took off from Mexico in April 2009. This of course does not put an end to concerns about influenza in travellers. The usual seasonal strains remain in circulation. There are bound to be scares intermittently and travellers are always at the forefront of concerns. The flu virus travels by jet, explaining how H1N1 got from Mexico City to central Australia in a few days. When a new outbreak occurs, screening of travellers takes place at airports using thermoscanners, with travellers who are screened positive risking being detained or quarantined.


The advice to travellers is currently: 


  1. Look out for any travel warnings issued by DFAT at smartraveller.gov.au
     

  2. Have the annual flu shot. It comes out in Late February each year. Vaccination makes it less likely that you develop a fever while travelling, and so make the thermoscanner at the airport go bleep.
      
  3. Keep your hands clean when travelling. Take some moist antibacterial towelettes such as Wet Ones.
      
  4. Higher risk travellers (eg those travelling to do health work) may wish to take some standby Tamiflu. (See below)

  5. Post-travel fevers should always be taken seriously. The symptoms suggesting influenza are fever, headache, muscle and joint aches, and cough. But of course many other conditions give those same symptoms, including serious illnesses such as malaria or meningitis, so we advise returned travellers who develop fevers to see a doctor rather than ‘wait and see’.



Tamiflu 


This is a prescription-only tablet which has been shown to be effective in treating influenza if started within 48 hours of the onset of symptoms. It can also be used as prevention if a traveller is stuck in a city where there is a major flu outbreak. Long-term travellers or those travellers at especially high risk may consider carrying standby treatment. Supplies of Tamiflu always become stretched during outbreaks, due in large part to stockpiling by government health departments. But for most people with generally good health, the treatment of uncomplicated flu has not changed and simply comprises rest, paracetamol, decongestants and throat lozenges. It is worth recalling that even during the awful 'Spanish flu' pandemic of 1918, about 98% of people who caught the flu survived. And there was no Tamiflu available back then of course! 



Further advice for travellers 


The Australian Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade (DFAT) maintains a regularly updated advisory service for travellers at www.smartraveller.gov.au