Swine flu is a respiratory infection, with symptoms similar to that of the common flu and people living with Parkinson’s disease are at particular risk of developing severe symptoms if infected. Swine flu is caused by a new strain of influenza A virus, called the H1N1 virus. Normally, swine flu is a disease confined to pigs, and transmission to humans is rare, but the new strain has spread rapidly from pigs to humans. In this current pandemic, human-to-human transmission by direct contact (hand to mouth or nose) and by sneezing or coughing.
Symptoms of Swine Flu in Parkinson’s Disease
The symptoms of swine flu develops three to five days after exposure to the virus and may continue for about a week. A person with Parkinson’s disease is at very high risk since the symptoms may become serious in a very short time, with the likelihood of rapidly developing complications.
The symptoms of swine flu include :
- Fever – high fevers are recorded.
- Runny nose
- Sore throat
- Muscle and joint pain
- Loss of appetite
Swine Flu Risk in Parkinson’s Disease
People living with Parkinson’s disease may be at greater risk of developing severe symptoms or complications if they contract swine flu, especially those at the end stages of the disease. In these cases, the body’s immune system is already compromised and the defense mechanism may be inadequate to fight against the viral onslaught. Furthermore, since Parkinson’s disease is a disease of old age, this is an additional risk factor since people over 65 years are more likely to develop severe symptoms or complications such as pneumonia or respiratory failure. The nutrition and general health status of older people living with Parkinson’s disease is usually not at its optimum, thus predisposing to rapid spread of the infection.
Prevention of Swine Flu in Parkinson’s Disease
- Precautions should be taken not to expose people with Parkinson’s disease to others suffering from swine flu or flu-like symptoms
- Washing hands frequently with soap and water or alcohol based hand cleansers is important.
- Using tissues to cover mouth and nose while sneezing or coughing and disposing off the tissues immediately.
- Refraining from touching eyes, nose or mouth as germs may spread this way.
- Vaccines for prevention of swine flu are soon to be launched and it is important to speak to your doctor as you may be considered to be in a high risk group in which vaccination is necessary.
Treatment of Swine Flu in Parkinson’s Disease
- Parkinson’s disease patients with swine flu should be given antivirals as soon as possible, preferably within 48 hours of developing symptoms, to get the maximum benefit. Antivirals help to reduce the severity of symptoms and duration of the disease and the antivirals now being used are oseltamivir (Tamiflu) and zanamivir (Relenza).
- Adequate rest.
- Nutritious diet.
- Plenty of liquids.
- Pain relievers, such as acetaminophen or ibuprofen, and cough syrups should only be taken with your doctor’s approval.
- Avoid immune boosting herbal remedies and high dose nutritional supplements, especially if you are on any Parkinson’s disease drugs, as this may cause serious drug interactions.