Swine influenza is a respiratory disease in pigs. The original virus spread to humans and has since been passed from person to person, with a number of reported cases now in the UK. There is no evidence that the disease has been found in pigs in the UK. The fact that the disease has now spread to humans in a number of different countries means that it is now in danger of becoming a pandemic flu outbreak. The word ‘pandemic’ refers to the fact that the virus is widespread, rather than the level of threat to humans.
Cold and flu viruses are spread by coughing and sneezing, and therefore the Government has released guidelines on preventing the spread of the wine flu virus by disposing of tissues hygienically and covering your mouth when sneezing or coughing. The UK’s plan for dealing with the virus has been identified as one of the best by the World Health Organisation (WHO) and there is a large stockpile of antiviral drugs including ‘Tamiflu’ and Relenza’ which help to reduce the symptoms of swine flu.
Is this covered by my private health insurance policy?
According to the largest health providers, a case of swine flu would officially be covered under a private medical insurance policy, because it is a new, rather than a pre-existing medical condition. However, and this is a big however, many private hospitals would be reluctant to admit you with early symptoms of swine flu because of the duty of care they have to other resident patients. Because Accident and Emergency facilities fall under the remit of the NHS, private hospitals are primarily set up for planned treatment, with little or no resources to deal with accidents or emergencies.
Therefore, you should make an appointment with your GP in the first instance, or to Accident and Emergency if your case is severe. If you then feel that you would prefer to be looked after privately, you should contact your insurer and request that a consultant takes on your case. If this consultant, having examined you, feels that you need to be admitted to hospital, this can be arranged through the insurer. It is definitely worth double-checking with your insurer however, as if you contracted the illness from travelling to a country to which the Foreign and Commonwealth Office (FCO) had advised ‘only essential travel’ this may invalidate your claim.
Access to Swine Flu medication
According to the NHS, “Arrangements are being put in place with local healthcare services for antivirals to be made available to those who need them”. You cannot easily get Tamiflu and Relenza on a private prescription, but an NHS prescription will come from the stockpile that the government has made available on a regional basis. Therefore it is much better (and cheaper) to use NHS resources. Under no circumstances should you attempt to source the drugs online, because you will have no guarantee of the authenticity of the medication or that it has been stored in the correct conditions.
How do I recognise the symptoms of swine flu?
The symptoms of swine flu are similar to those of ordinary seasonal flu. However, due to the fact that this is a new virus and therefore that the general population has little or no immunity, the symptoms may be more serious and cause more complications if treatment is not sought quickly. Symptoms include a cough, sudden fever, aching mucles, a sore throat, diarrhoea and sneezing. Most flu sufferers can be cared for effectively at home. However, if your symptoms worsen, contact NHS Direct on 0845 4647 or make an appointment with your local GP. Please note that unless a pandemic has been announced, it may also be that you have seasonal flu.