Byline: Dr Elena Douse
'To date, there have only been 89 confirmed cases of swine flu in Wales'
AFTER months of watching much of the flu activity taking place across the border, the H1N1 virus has now most certainly arrived in Wales, with GP consultations for flu-like illnesses quadrupling in the past few weeks.
"GPs and healthcare workers across the country face an uphill battle in trying to quell the mass panic.
In reality, of the cases that I have so far seen and diagnosed, the H1N1 virus seems to be delivering a fairly mild, flu-like illness, with most patients making a full recovery within five to seven days.
Simple advice such as getting plenty of rest, regular fluids and regular paracetamol /ibuprofen to keep temperatures down, is usually sufficient in the majority of cases to ensure a complete recovery.
Tamiflu, the anti-viral drug, which I should stress is NOT a cure for swine flu, but merely an aid to prevent progression of the virus within the body, is now mainly being prescribed to patients who are deemed to be high risk - these include the under-fives, the over-65s and those patients suffering from chronic long-term health conditions.
Pregnant women with flu-like symptoms also need anti-viral treatment in the form of the inhaled powder Relenza.
With UK surgeries no longer testing patients for the H1N1 virus, it is becoming increasingly difficult for GPs to confidently diagnose swine flu. Diagnostic criteria issued to practitioners from the Department of Health state that in order to make a clinical diagnosis of swine flu, patients must have a sudden onset temperature of 38oC or higher and at least two other flu-like symptoms such as sore throat, cough, headache, aching joints, runny nose or diarrhoea.
Patients who fit these criteria are advised to stay off work and away from other people for seven days until their symptoms have cleared.
Please remember that your doctor cannot definitely diagnose swine flu. He or she can merely advise you that you have symptoms which would fit the diagnostic criteria for swine flu, and therefore you may have contracted the H1N1 virus.
The difficulties arise, as re-iterated by many of my GP colleagues, due to the fact that simple viral upper respiratory tract infections (ie coughs and colds) can also display the above symptoms and satisfy the diagnostic criteria for H1N1. This may lead to incorrect and over diagnosis of swine flu, and inappropriate Tamiflu prescriptions.
Similarly, more serious infections requiring antibiotic treatment such as tonsillitis, ear infections, pneumonias or meningitis, may also getting worse, not improving or if you develop more specific symptoms for which you suspect you may need antibiotic treatment.
Practices, particularly in the Cardiff area, are dealing with large numbers of swine flu queries every day and GPs are finding it increasingly difficult to deal with the extra workload this generates.
The National Public Health Service for Wales' latest report states that approximately 3,810 people in Wales contacted their GP with flu-like symptoms in the past seven days.
In order to ease pressure on primary care workers, patients with flu-like symptoms who require general advice, are initially being asked to contact the Swine Flu Information Line on 0800 1 513 513.
Alternatively, patients can contact NHS Direct Wales either via the website www.nhsdirect.wales.nhs.uk or via the advice line on 0845 4647.
This should be done before telephoning the doctor.
Patients should not attend the surgery with flu-like symptoms unless specifically requested to do so by their GP.
Reassuringly, swine flu in South Wales and across the UK has so far proved to be a relatively mild illness.
Despite widespread public fears, the latest weekly update from the Health Protection Agency states that there is currently no evidence that the virus is changing and there is currently no sign that the virus is becoming more severe or resistant to antiviral drugs. …