Swine flu - questions and answers

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In June 2009 the World Health Organization declared that there was a pandemic of swine flu. The University of Bristol had already developed an influenza pandemic contingency plan, drawing on the best available scientific advice and its experience in dealing with outbreaks of other infectious diseases. Part of that plan relates to communications - hence the questions and answers below, which we aim to keep up to date as the situation develops.

  1. What is swine flu?
  2. What is a pandemic?
  3. How do humans become infected with swine flu?
  4. What are the symptoms of swine flu ?
  5. How long does it take for humans to develop symptoms after infection?
  6. How severe is the illness caused by swine flu ?
  7. What can I do to improve my chances of avoiding it?
  8. What should I do if I think I have swine flu?
  9. What about treatment?
  10. I hear there's a new vaccine that can stop people contracting swine flu. Who will get the vaccine first?
  11. What steps is the University of Bristol taking to cope with an outbreak of swine flu?
  12. Will the University provide face-masks at the start of term?
  13. Will the University provide alcohol handwash at all entrances?
  14. What should students do if they are ill when they should be arriving for the start of a University term?
  15. Is there anything students can do to prepare themselves before they get to the University?
  16. Should students go home if they get swine flu?
  17. What should I do if someone in my student accommodation has swine flu?
  18. Will the Students’ Health Service deal with every case of swine flu?
  19. Can I stay away from work if I am pregnant?
  20. Which countries have been affected by swine flu?
  21. Should I travel abroad?
  22. What should I do if I become ill on my return to Britain?
  23. Is it safe to eat pork and pork products?
  24. Does swine flu pose special risks to pregnant women or people with medical conditions that would make them more vulnerable to the virus?
  25. Where can I obtain further information?
  26. Advice for University of Bristol staff about employment matters if you or a dependant become ill

1. What is swine flu?

Swine flu, or A(H1N1), is a new influenza virus that has never before circulated among humans. It is not related to previous or current human seasonal influenza viruses.

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2. What is a pandemic?

We are used to epidemics of ‘ordinary’ flu, which occur seasonally, every year, around the world. An epidemic is a widespread outbreak of disease occurring in a single community, population or region. A pandemic, on the other hand, occurs on a much greater scale, spreading around the world and affecting many hundreds of thousands of people across many countries.

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3. How do humans become infected with swine flu?

The virus is spread from person to person. It is transmitted as easily as the normal seasonal flu and can be passed to other people by exposure to infected droplets expelled by coughing or sneezing that can be inhaled, or that can contaminate hands or surfaces.

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4. What are the symptoms of swine flu ?

The typical symptoms are:

Other symptoms may include:

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5. How long does it take for humans to develop symptoms after infection?

It takes between three and four days after exposure and infection for symptoms to appear.

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6. How severe is the illness caused by swine flu ?

The severity of the disease ranges from very mild symptoms to severe illnesses that can result in death. The majority of people who contract the virus experience the milder disease and recover without antiviral treatment or medical care. Of the more serious cases reported worldwide, more than half of hospitalised people had underlying health conditions or weak immune systems.

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7. What can I do to improve my chances of avoiding it?

You can reduce, but not eliminate, the risk of catching or spreading flu by:

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8. What should I do if I think I have swine flu?

If you feel unwell and have flu-like symptoms (see the symptoms listed in the answer to question 4 above):


9. What about treatment?

The swine flu virus can be treated with Tamiflu and Relenza. These are antivirals which reduce the development of the virus and lessen the symptoms. Antiviral medication does not cure the infection, but reduces its impact and helps the body recover. It should be taken as soon as possible - ideally within 48 hours of the infection starting.

Use of these drugs may also make it less likely that infected people will pass the virus on to others.

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10. I hear there's a new vaccine that can stop people contracting swine flu. Who will get the vaccine first?

The vaccine has been rolled out to priority groups who are at higher risk of complications from swine flu. These include individuals with certain underlying health conditions, pregnant women and children aged over six months and under five years.


11. What steps is the University of Bristol taking to cope with an outbreak of swine flu?

We are making sure that we have adequate channels of communication available to inform the whole University community about swine flu. We are also ensuring that our business continuity plan is fit for purpose.

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12. Will the University provide face-masks?

No. There is no conclusive evidence that face-masks will protect healthy people in their day-to-day lives.

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13. Will the University provide alcohol handwash at all entrances?

No. There is no evidence that alcohol handwash is any more effective than thorough and frequent handwashing. You can play your part by practising good hygiene. This includes:

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14. What should students do if they are ill when they should be arriving for the start of a University term?

If you are ill when you should be arriving at the University for the first time or returning to your studies, you should inform your academic department (and, if applicable, your hall of residence or student house) as soon as possible. It will normally be possible for arrangements to be made for you to catch up on any induction, study or administrative arrangements (eg, registration) that you have missed. You should give your department as much notice as possible of when you intend to arrive/return.

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15. Is there anything students can do to prepare themselves before they get to the University?

No. Students are advised to register with a doctor as soon as they arrive in Bristol. You can do this with the Students’ Health Service if you wish.

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16. Should students go home if they get swine flu?

Anyone who has flu symptoms is advised not to travel and should stay at home or in their student accommodation. You should inform your department that you are unwell.

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17. What should I do if someone in my student accommodation has swine flu?

Encourage them to follow the advice set out in answer to question 8. You should follow the advice set out in answer to question 7, but otherwise carry on as normal.

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18. Will the Students’ Health Service deal with every case of swine flu?

You should contact your GP or the Students’ Health Service (+44 (0)117 330 2720) if you are registered with them to discuss your case.

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19. Can I stay away from work if I am pregnant?

Not unless you are ill. Pregnant women are more susceptible to all infections because their immune system is naturally suppressed in pregnancy, but pregnant women have not been advised to stay away from work because of the risk of contracting swine flu. The NHS has issued guidance about reducing the risks where possible.

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20. Which countries have been affected by swine flu?

The situation is changing frequently. Regularly updated information about reported human cases of swine flu is available on the World Health Organization website.

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21. Should I travel abroad?

The World Health Organization (WHO) is not currently advising people to avoid international travel. However, it is recommended that before travelling you look at the relevant advice from the Foreign and Commonwealth Office (FCO). As well as general guidance, the FCO provides country-by-country advice. Some countries have introduced very stringent measures to prevent the spread of swine flu.   

As with any illness, people who are ill are advised to delay their travel plans. Those developing symptoms should seek medical attention.

To reduce the risk of infection from an influenza virus, travellers are advised, whenever possible, to avoid crowded, enclosed spaces and close contact with people suffering from acute respiratory infections. If you do come into contact with anyone who is ill, or with their environment, you are advised to wash your hands thoroughly to reduce the risk of illness.

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22. What should I do if I become ill on my return to Britain?

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23. Is it safe to eat pork and pork products?

Yes. There is no indication that swine flu can be caught by eating properly handled and prepared pork or pork products.

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24. Does swine flu pose special risks to pregnant women or people with medical conditions that would make them more vulnerable to the virus?

The National Health Service website has detailed information on a variety of healthcare scenarios.

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25. Where can I obtain further information?

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