SWINE FLU AND YOU
As the number of UK swine flu cases rise, a whole host of social questions arises if a person is infected. When exposed to the virus, you may find yourself temporarily shunned by friends and family, says the BBC’s Bella Hurrell, whose five-year-old daughter recently had the virus. How should you behave?
Medical advice can be pretty confused as health authorities adjust their containment policy on the hoof in a frantic attempt to stop the spread of the virus.
One minute you can find yourself being told it’s fine to carry on as normal, only to be advised a short time later by someone else that you shouldn’t be setting foot outside your house.
Here are some of the dilemmas you may face if you find yourself exposed to swine flu.
HOW TO GREET A FRIEND WHO DOESN’T KNOW
People are scared of this virus, probably more scared than they would be if you said you had TB, but maybe not quite as worried as they would be if you said you had Ebola.
If you meet a friend in the street, a clear announcement is best, before your acquaintance gets too close. It’s a great opportunity to avoid any awkward continental cheek-kissing.
Do be prepared for people to take a step back and suddenly remember an urgent appointment elsewhere.
If you have had the virus and your friend stays around long enough to ask: “But how are you?” the correct response is a small sigh, a martyrish smile and: “Well, through the worst…”
SHOULD YOU GO TO WORK?
Having a child with swine flu, or even getting it yourself, is currently the perfect excuse for a leisurely week or two off work, no questions asked.
Once through the initial illness, which if you are very lucky may just be a couple of days of feeling a bit feverish, the days stretch ahead in a sunshiny haze.
For the childless that may mean a festival of homemade lattes and catching up with holiday reading but for those with children who have been forced into a netherworld of exclusion from school and playgrounds, the time can be a little more fraught.
Medical advice can vary wildly depending on whether you are speaking to the Health Protection Agency, a flu centre, your GP or some other vaguely medical person who doesn’t really have that much idea, but will try to be helpful anyway.
So despite Health Protection Agency (HPA) guidelines which state that if you have no symptoms you can carry on as normal, others may advise if you have been exposed that you take the antiviral Tamiflu and stay off work for up to 10 days, just to be on the safe side. So, the choice is yours.
SHOULD YOU GO SHOPPING?
It would be madness to trek to the shops if there is the remotest chance that you or your child is contagious, wouldn’t it?
However, being trapped in the house with no interesting food and apparently healthy children who are trying to pull each other’s ears off is no fun and a trip to a supermarket can seem like an exciting adventure. After all, who is going to know?
Well, there is some anecdotal evidence that at least one shop in the Midlands, where swine flu has been most acute, took to banning shoppers with swine flu, though how this would work in practice is a bit unclear.
The HPA says that if you have no symptoms you pose no risk to fellow shoppers, but this advice is complicated by the fact that it is possible to be contagious for up to 24 hours before the onset of symptoms.
So just remember, if you do choose to go to the shops, try to prevent panic by not mentioning the S-word in public or popping your Tamiflu in the produce aisle.
SHOULD YOU GO TO THAT PARTY/BBQ/WEDDING?
Potentially infecting people you don’t know is one thing, but possibly infecting those you do seems like another.
The HPA advises that if you no longer have symptoms then it is unlikely you are still contagious.
Symptoms can last up to seven days after the onset of the illness in adults and a day or two longer for children.
So theoretically there is no reason why you can’t socialise if you feel fine, but fear is never rational, and your friends may not feel quite so confident in your recovery.
Even if you or your family members are no longer symptomatic, you may want to consider that good manners should prevent you from ruining a social gathering by turning up like Typhoid Mary.
And finally, although no-one really knows for sure, if you haven’t developed any symptoms a week after close contact with a person infected by the virus it is likely you are completely in the clear. At least, for now.