Swine flu and HIV Q&A

We compiled the following Q&As in response to the increased number of calls and emails about swine flu.

Updated: September 1 2009

Q.    What is swine flu?

A.    Swine flu is a new strain of flu (influenza). The medical name for this strain is H1N1. It has been called a ‘pandemic’ because of the speed with which it spread to many different countries in a short time.

Q.    Are HIV-positive people more at risk of catching swine-flu?

A.    No. Generally, as with other strains of flu, having HIV does not increase your risk of catching swine flu. As with any flu, you will want to reduce your risk of catching this strain.

Q.    Are HIV-positive people become more ill if they catch swine flu?

A.    Not generally. It may be more serious if you have a low CD4 count (less than 200 cells/mm3). This is mainly because symptoms of other serious infections could be mistaken for flu. If you have flu symptoms and either a low CD4 count, other health complications or are pregnant, please call your HIV clinic.

Q.    How is swine flu different from regular seasonal flu?

A.    Because swine flu is a new strain of flu virus, it is not affected by existing vaccinations. Although researchers are already working to produce a vaccine, this may, or may not, be ready in time for the next flu season.

Q.    How is swine flu spread?

A.    Swine flu is spread by person-to-person contact, just like regular flu, specifically through not covering your mouth when sneezing and not washing your hands.

Catch-it, Bin-it, Kill-it. (www.nhs.uk)

Q.    Will flu meds work in people who are HIV-positive?

A.    Antiviral medications used to treat flu (for example, oseltamivir (Tamiflu) and zanamivir (Relenza ) will work in HIV-positive people. The main reson to take them is to reduce how infectious you are.

Q.    Will flu treatments interact with my HIV drugs?
A.    There is a potential for interactions between Tamiflu, boosted PIs and some nukes (3TC, FTC and tenofovir) but the benefits outweigh this small risk. Your pharmacist will advise you on this. *

Q.    When does seasonal flu occur?
A.    The risk period for flu, including swine flu, is during the autumn and winter, especially from September to December.

Q.    What is the risk that this years’ flu will be swine flu and be more severe?

A.   This is difficult to predict. Hopefully, there is only a small chance of such a serious outbreak this year.

Q.    Should I have the flu vaccine?

A.    HIV-positive people are routinely recommended to have the seasonal flu vaccine. You need to be registered with a GP to get this and any new vaccinations. Your clinic can help with this or see: www.nhs.gov.uk

Q.    Will I still get my HIV meds?

A.    If the flu outbrteak is severe this could limit routine services. To prepare for this ALWAYS KEEP AT LEAST ONE MONTH’S SUPPLY of HIV meds at home. Some clinics will give you an additional month supply or ask you to return earlier for a new prescription. During August or September, arrange to get enough meds to last you until January. You want to avoid having to visit your clinic in October or November when the flu outbreak is likely to be at it’s peak.

Q.    What do I do if I think I have symptoms?

A.    If you have internet access see: www.direct.gov.uk/pandemicflu

If you have symptoms call: 0800 15 13 100

This is the number to access flu meds. You should get these if you are HIV-positive.

Do not visit your GP, hospital or clinic unless you have been advised to.

Q.    Where can I get more information?

A.    The NHS website will provide updates. Your doctor and clinic will have specific information too. See also:

  • i-Base: 0808 800 6013 (Mon, Tues, Wed 12-4pm). www.i-Base.info
  • THT direct: 0845 12 21 200 (Mon-Fri 10am-10pm; Sat/Sun 12noon-6pm) www.tht.org

* Ref:  technical summary of drug interactions PDF from the University of Liverpool drug interactions website