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Anyone with `flu' symptoms urged not to go to GP or hospital

Charlie MartynTHE Medical Director of the South Eastern Trust, Charlie Martyn, has said swine flu could already be in the community in Lisburn but up until the Department officially stopped recording the numbers of sufferers, no one in the city had been officially diagnosed.

Mr Martyn's statement came in the same week that Lisburn City Council confirmed contract personnel employed by them have received medical advice not to report for duty due to illness.

A spokesperson for the council added: "At the current time, and in line with public health advice, the Council has made provision for hand gel dispensers to be placed in Lagan Valley Island. This is for the convenience of visitors and employees of the Council."

Mr Martyn said two people had been tested for the virus at the Lagan Valley Hospital last weekend, however both tested negative for the illness which is sweeping the planet.

The message from Mr Martyn, and from Mr Paddy Woods, the Department of Health's Deputy Chief Medical Officer, is that anyone in Lisburn who suspects they might have swine flu should contact their GP by telephone to discuss treatment. However, they also stressed the best course of action was to stay in bed, take normal flu medication to relieve symptoms and drink plenty of fluids.

Isobel King from the Trust's Infection Control department also emphasised the need for strict hygiene and for anyone with flu-like symptoms to stay away from the Lagan Valley Hospital, either presenting as a patient or to visit a patient at the hospital.

The Department of Health and the South Eastern Trust said they are hoping the progress of swine flu in Northern Ireland, which is currently at a lower level than on the mainland, can be kept at a low level until September when the vaccination is ready to be administered.

Mr Martyn also confirmed there were plans ready to be put into action should swine flu reach a severe level in Northern Ireland. He said there would be designated 'swine flu' wards at the Lagan Valley with the possibility that elective surgeries could be cancelled to accommodate rising admission numbers.

Mr Martyn, Mr Woods and Ms King are all urging the local community to play their part in containing the virus and have reminded everyone to 'catch it, bin it, kill it'.

Mr Woods added: "We are planning for the worst but hoping for the best."

Questions about swine flu

THERE has been a lot of conflicting information about swine flu. Here are some of the most frequently asked questions and the latest information from the Department of Health in Northern Ireland.

Q What is swine flu?

A Swine flu is a respiratory illness caused by a virus that usually infects pigs. People do not normally get swine flu but human infection can happen. The latest outbreaks have been caused by a new version of the swine flu virus called A/ H1N1v

Q How can I reduce my chances of catching swine flu?

A General hygiene can help reduce transmission of all viruses. This includes covering your nose and mouth when coughing or sneezing, using a tissue when possible - catch it, bin it, kill it; maintaining good basic hygiene, for example washing hands frequently; cleaning hard surfaces (eg door handles) frequently using a normal cleaning product.

Q I think I may have been exposed to the swine flu virus - what should I do?

A Check your symptoms online at or or call the Northern Ireland Swine Flu Helpline on 0800 0514 142 (Monday to Friday 9am until 5pm) or the automated UK Swine Flu Information Line on 0800 1 513 513. If you are still concerned you should call your GP or out-of-hours service.

Q What is the incubation period for swine flu?

A The incubation period for swine flu (time between infection an d appearance of symptoms) can be up to seven days but is most likely to be between two and five days.

Q When are people most infectious?

A Soon after they develop symptoms, although they continue to shed the virus (for example in coughs and sneezes) for up to five days (seven days in children). People become less infectious as their symptoms subside and once their symptoms are gone they are no longer considered infectious to others.

Q How long does the virus live on surfaces?

A The flu virus can live on a hard surface for up to 24 hours and a soft surface for around 20 minutes.

Q How does swine flu cause death?

A Like any other type of fl u, people can die from swine flu if they develop complications like pneumonia.

Q Should we expect a more severe second wave of the pandemic in the winter?

A Features of previous flu pandemics suggest that the current viral strain will become more widespread in the autumn or winter, causing more illness and death. It is possible that the virus will mutate into a more potent strain.

Q Is there a vaccine to protect against swine flu?

A Not yet, because the virus that is circulating is a new strain. However, a vaccine is already being developed to immunise people against swine flu and there will be enough or the entire population as soon as it is available. The government has said that it expects the first batches of vaccines to arrive in the UK in August.

Q Who will be a priority for vaccination?

A The Joint Committee on Vaccination and Immunisation has previously advised that the priority groups should be assumed to be: frontline health and social care workers; older people and those in clinical risk groups; under 16s, as protecting children can slow the spread of the virus in the population.

Q What if you want to travel by plane?

AT he advice to anyone in the UK who is symptomatic is not to travel until they are no longer infectious. Travel advice is available on the Foreign and Commonwealth Office -

Q What precautions can pregnant women take?

A If you are pregnant you can reduce your risk of infection by avoiding unnecessary travel and avoiding crowds where possible. Pregnant women should also follow the general hygiene advice.

Ulster Star