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  • Four Cases Of Suspected Swine Flu

    Posted on April 30th, 2009 admin No comments

    There are four more suspected cases of swine flu in Worcestershire, the Health Protection Agency in the county says.

    A 41-year-old woman from Redditch contracted the disease after visiting Mexico, Prime Minister Gordon Brown confirmed on Wednesday.

    The West Midlands Health Protection Agency said the confirmed case in Redditch was only “a mild case”.

    It said she was responding well to treatment at home and there was “no need” for other people to worry.

    Raised alert

    Five people the woman had been in contact with – including family members – have been given anti-viral drugs.

    Five people in the UK, including a girl of 12, are known to have the virus, but all are responding well to treatment.

     

    An advertising campaign promoting good hygiene to help combat the threat of swine flu has been launched in the UK.

    The Department of Health’s Catch it, Bin it, Kill it! adverts urge people to cover coughs and sneezes with tissues, throw them away and wash their hands.

    The World Health Organization (WHO) has raised its alert to level five – one short of a full-blown pandemic.

    Dr David Kirrage, director of the Health Protection Agency for Worcestershire, has issued advice to residents in the area.

    He said: “(We should do) things like hand washing, making sure that we use handkerchiefs or tissues and dispose of those tissues if we are sneezing.

    “(Also we should be) cleaning work surfaces, not obsessively, but making sure that particularly (on) those work surfaces which might be used by a large number of people we keep up the normal cleaning regime.”

    Dr Richard Harling, director of public health for Worcestershire, has said: “Symptoms of infection include fever, cough, runny nose, limb or joint pain and headache.

    “People who develop symptoms and who have returned from Mexico or the US within the last seven days should stay at home and contact NHS Direct on 0845 4647.

    “We will then make arrangements to come and assess them and provide treatment if necessary. They are asked not to go to their GP and not to go to hospital.”

  • Swine Flu: Your Health Questions Answered

    Posted on April 30th, 2009 admin No comments

    Countries across the globe are on alert about the possible spread of swine flu from Mexico.

    But how worried should you be about the illness?

    Read our question and answer to find out more about the rare H1N1 influenza virus.

    Q: What is swine flu?

    A: Swine flu is the name being given to the outbreak of the H1N1 influenza virus, which is a mutated virus that has parts of swine, avian and human flus.

    It is also the name commonly given to the strain of more common influenza that usually infects pigs.

    It is caused by type A influenza viruses and there are many different types of swine flu.

    Q: How do humans catch it?

    A: While humans do not catch the more common forms of swine flu, this current strain of the H1N1 virus does infect humans because during mutation it was combined with parts of a human flu virus.

    The original change to the virus is thought to have happened inside a pig, which was then caught by someone in close contact with it in Mexico.

    But the World Health Organisation has now confirmed this strain of swine flu can spread from human to human, raising fears of a global pandemic.

    Doctors don’t yet know how easily the virus spreads between people, but experts believe it spreads in the same way as seasonal flu – through coughing and sneezing.

    Q: What are the symptoms?

    A: The symptoms of swine influenza in people are similar to the symptoms of a regular human seasonal influenza infection and include fever, fatigue, lack of appetite, coughing and a sore throat.

    Some people with swine flu have also reported vomiting and diarrhoea.

    It may have more severe symptoms in some victims because the virus is so new that it is very unlikely that we will have natural immunity to it.

    Doctors have found some antiviral drugs to have helped control symptoms with the new form of swine flu, as they prevent the virus from spreading into cells within the body.

    Q: I’m experiencing flu-like symptoms. What should I do?

    A: If you’ve recently been in the affected areas of Mexico and the USA, and are experiencing symptoms, stay at home and limit contact with other people.

    You should look at the NHS Direct symptom checker online, contact your GP by phone or call NHS Direct on 0845 4647.

    Q: Have humans been infected with swine flu in the past?

    A: Cases of swine flu in humans usually occur after a history of exposure to pigs. For example, direct or close contact with infected pigs.

    Cases of person-to-person transmission have been previously reported but are rare.

    There have been no cases identified in the UK for at least 10 years.

    A single case of swine flu was reported in November 2008 in Spain. The person only had mild symptoms.

    Q: Does current medication offer protection against swine flu?

    A: Relenza and Tamiflu are not cures. The drugs lessen the effects of the symptoms, and can mean the difference between life and death in marginal cases.

    Primary Care Trusts are supposed to have a two-week supply, from national stockpiles.

    Q: How dangerous is it?

    A: Thousands of people have been made ill by swine flu – with some cases proving fatal.

    Tests show that the antiviral drugs oseltamavir (Tamiflu) and zanamivir (Relenza) appear to be effective against the human swine influenza H1N1 strain.

    Q: Should we be worried about it?

    A: No – but we should take sensible precautions. The World Health Organisation has warned that the outbreak has “pandemic potential” and countries have been advised to step up surveillance and preparation in case the infection spreads rapidly.

    Flu viruses have the ability to change and mutate, making it difficult for drugs manufacturers to ensure effective vaccines are available.

    The new version of the H1N1 virus is a mix of different animal and human versions of the disease. Mixing can lead to the development of changed viruses to which humans have little immunity.

    Q: What is a pandemic?

    A: If the flu spreads over a wide geographic area and affects a large proportion of the population it goes beyond an epidemic and becomes a pandemic.

    According to the Health Protection Agency, an influenza pandemic is defined as a new or novel influenza virus that spreads easily between humans.

    When new influenza viruses are introduced into the environment, humans do not have any natural immunity to protect against them.

    Therefore, there is a risk that that new influenza viruses could develop into a pandemic, if the virus passes easily from human-to-human.

    Q: What is the doctors’ definition of someone suffering from flu?

    A: You have flu is you have a fever over 38 degrees centigrade and two or more of the following: cough, headache, runny nose, vomiting/diarrhoea.

    Q: Do I need a mask to prevent getting an infection?

    A: Standard issue surgical masks offer little if any protection against the virus. The best advice is to keep your hands clean, wash surfaces regularly and dispose of tissues as they are used.

    NHS officials are being issued with special masks but these are only effective when used by trained personnel exposed to the virus – other precautions must be taken to prevent infection.

    Q: In an emergency, what are the authorities’ legal rights?

    A: Authorities can force people to be medically examined, removed and detained.

    They can also: Forbid people from attending work or children from attending school; prosecute those who wilfully expose others to infection; and pass other emergency laws.

    Q: Does swine flu pose a more serious threat to pregnant women?

    A: All viruses are potentially dangerous to pregnant women as their immune systems are under extra strain – but they should be fine if they eat well and keep up essential minerals.

    Q: What is being done in the UK to prevent the infection?

    A: Seven people who were in contact with the two infected individuals in Scotland are being “appropriately cared for,” after showing “mild” symptoms which have not been confirmed as swine flu. They are receiving drugs at home, not in hospital.

    The HPA has advised people to follow general infection control practices and good hygiene to reduce transmission of all viruses.

    This includes covering their nose and mouth when coughing or sneezing, disposing of dirty tissues promptly and carefully, washing hands frequently with soap and water and cleaning surfaces which are regularly touched.

    Q: How long does the flu virus survive on surfaces?

    A: The flu virus survives for roughly 24 hours on hard surfaces, two hours on soft surfaces.

    Q: Where can I find more useful health information?

    A: There are many useful websites that provide extensive information about the outbreak and how to protect against it:

    :: World Health Organisation: Swine flu information page.

    :: Health Protection Agency: Information on the swine flu health measures.

    :: NHS Direct: Swine flu symptom checker.

    :: NHS Choices: Swine flu information portal.

    :: Centre for Disease Control and Prevention: Advice on US swine flu outbreak.

  • NHS Symptom Checker

    Posted on April 30th, 2009 admin No comments

    https://www.nhsdirect.nhs.uk/

  • WHO Fears Pandemic Is ‘Imminent’

    Posted on April 30th, 2009 admin No comments

    Britain will see “many, many more cases” of swine flu but most of those affected will recover, the government’s chief medical adviser has said.

    Sir Liam Donaldson told the BBC although some cases would be serious, the UK had a “clear plan” which would help mitigate the virus’s impact.

    Five people in the UK, including a girl of 12, are known to have the virus, but all are responding well to treatment.

    An advertising campaign to help prevent swine flu’s spread has been launched.

    Sir Liam told BBC Breakfast: “What we will see is many, many more cases, and inevitably some serious cases – but on the whole people make a good recovery from flu.”

    It was impossible to predict how many deaths there could be in the UK until more was known about the strain of the swine flu virus, he said.

    ‘Not alarmed’

    But certain groups would be more vulnerable than others, such as the elderly and very frail, he explained.

    However, Sir Liam said the UK was well prepared for the spread of swine flu and that he was “concerned, but not alarmed” about the situation.

     

    CONFIRMED & SUSPECTED CASES
    Mexico: 168 suspected deaths, eight confirmed
    US: One death, at least 91 confirmed cases
    Canada: 19 confirmed cases
    New Zealand: 13 confirmed cases
    Spain: 10 confirmed cases
    UK: Five confirmed cases
    Germany: Three confirmed cases
    Israel, Costa Rica: Two confirmed cases each
    Netherlands, Switzerland, Austria, Peru: One confirmed case each

    “I’m in a position where I feel we can reassure the public that we know what we are doing, we have a clear plan in place and we will do everything possible to mitigate the impact of this,” he said.

    “We can’t make it go away, lots of people will become ill, but we hope we will be able to deal with the problem in an orderly and organised way.”

    Sir Liam had earlier ruled out screening all British travellers returning from Mexico, saying it was more important to “concentrate the public health attention” on those showing symptoms.

    On Wednesday, the World Health Organization (WHO) raised its alert to level five – one short of a full-blown pandemic.

    The Department of Health’s Catch it, Bin it, Kill it! adverts urge people to cover coughs and sneezes with tissues, throw them away and wash their hands.

    “When you cough or sneeze, your germs go everywhere. Fast. And once they’ve hit a surface, they can survive for hours,” warns the Department of Health’s print advert.

    “Covering your mouth and nose with your hand won’t stop them. But a tissue will.”

    School closed

    Five cases of swine flu have been confirmed in the UK – all in people who have recently returned from Mexico, where there have been almost 160 suspected deaths.

    A 41-year-old woman from Redditch, Worcestershire, a 22-year-old from Barnet, north London, a couple from near Falkirk and a 12-year-old from Devon have all been diagnosed with swine flu.

     

    Map of swine flu cases in UK

    The schoolgirl had been on the same flight home as the first patients confirmed in the UK, Iain and Dawn Askham, from Polmont, near Falkirk, who have now been released from hospital.

    The girl is being treated at home and her condition is said to be “improving”.

    Her school, Paignton Community College, has been closed for at least seven days and pupils are being offered anti-viral drugs.

    The Health Protection Agency said some 340 courses of treatment had so far been given out to the 267 pupils in the girl’s year group and associated staff.

    Meanwhile, hundreds of British tourists are flying home on special charter flights from Mexico, where the outbreak started.

    Announcing the level five alert on Wednesday, WHO director general Margaret Chan urged all countries to activate their pandemic plans, including heightened surveillance and infection-control measures.

    She said action should be undertaken with “increased urgency”, adding: “It really is the whole of humanity that is under threat in a pandemic.”

    The move followed the death of a 23-month-old Mexican child in Texas, US – the first death from swine flu outside Mexico.

    Prime Minister Gordon Brown told a news conference on Thursday the government was taking “all the steps that are necessary to prepare and to protect the population” from the effects of the swine flu.

     

    SWINE FLU ADVICE
    Man blowing nose
    Use clean tissues when you cough or sneeze
    Bin tissues after use
    Wash hands with soap, hot water or gel

    Most computers will open this document automatically, but you may need Adobe Reader

    He had previously told the House of Commons this included enhanced airport checks, expanding anti-viral stocks from 35 million to 50 million by the end of May, ordering extra face masks and printing an information leaflet for every family.

    Supplies of antibiotics are to be increased to deal with any complications arising as a result of flu infections.

    The government’s emergency committee Cobra, which was meeting again on Thursday morning, is also considering possible restrictions to large gatherings like concerts and sporting events.

    NHS Direct has taken thousands of calls about swine flu this week, while daily visits to its website have reached 85,000, compared with about 55,000 a week earlier.

    More than 70 people in the UK are currently being tested for the virus, with 20 possible cases in Wales and 32 in Scotland.

    No suspected cases have yet been reported in Northern Ireland.

  • Swine Flu: How Serious A Threat?

    Posted on April 29th, 2009 admin No comments

    With the UK confirming two cases of swine flu and the World Health Organization raising its alert level from three to four, how serious a threat does the disease pose to us all?

    WHO says the virus, which has killed more than 150 people in Mexico, is showing a “sustained ability” to pass from human to human and is able to cause community-level outbreaks.

    The UK’s leading experts on flu give their views on what the future threat might be.

     

    PROFESSOR NEIL FERGUSON, WORLD HEALTH ORGANIZATION

    Clearly we are on track for a pandemic in the coming months.

    The good news is that we were all worried about so-called bird flu H5N1 which was a much more dangerous virus. Here, we are not in the same ball park.

     We might expect up to 30-40% of the population to become ill in the next six months if this truly turns into a pandemic 
    Professor Ferguson

    But we can’t at the moment answer the question is it comparable to 1918 Spanish flu which killed a lot of people – or is it much more like Hong Kong flu.

    We are coming out of the normal time of year when we have flu circulating in the UK so we don’t really know what size of epidemic there may be in the next couple of months.

    It is almost certain that even if it does fade away in the next few weeks which it might we will get a sizable epidemic in the autumn.

    We might expect up to 30-40% of the population to become ill in the next six months if this truly turns into a pandemic.

    We could get substantial numbers infected in the next few weeks. If I was to be a betting man I would say it would be a slightly longer period of time just because we are heading into the summer months.

     

    SIR LIAM DONALDSON, CHIEF MEDICAL OFFICER FOR ENGLAND

    A new strain of flu is something to which we do not have natural immunity, and we have not been vaccinated against, because there is not a vaccine, so it does mean that many more people are vulnerable and so it spreads more easily and affects more people.

    But we don’t know enough about this virus yet. It is being studied by the top laboratories in the world.

    When we know more about it we will be able to give better predictions about who is at greater risk, and who is at risk of developing serious complications.

    At this point the picture coming out of Mexico is rather confused, and we can’t make any firm statements about what is likely to happen, but we have to prepare for all eventualities.

     

    PROFESSOR JOHN OXFORD, VIROLOGY EXPERT AT BARTS AND THE LONDON

    If the avian flu H5N1 virus had spread from human to human like this then I would be extremely worried. It would be top of my Richter scale.

    But this swine flu worries me less because as a population we have a basic immunity to H1N1. Outside of Mexico there have been no deaths, so it doesn’t seem so aggressive.

    And not only are we coming up to the summer, which makes it less likely for these viruses to spread as well, but Britain has enough antiviral drugs for half of the population.

    So we should not panic in any way. This does not look as though it is going to be a virus that sweeps the world and causes huge mortality.

     

    DR ALAN MACNALLY, MOLECULAR BIOLOGY EXPERT AT NOTTINGHAM TRENT UNIVERSITY

    I still think we are a day or so away from knowing what the threat is. WHO has gone to stage four, so we know there will be an epidemic stemming from direct contact with these cases in Mexico. We will see more cases.

    But we will have to wait to see how it spreads to know if there will be a pandemic that sweeps nations.

    The key thing is how lethal a virus is it. Outside of Mexico it has not caused any deaths, which is good news. And we are prepared for it.

    We should have a complete picture in the next five to seven days to answer these questions.

     

    KEITH PLUMB, FELLOW OF THE INSTITUTION OF CHEMICAL ENGINEERS

    There is no evidence of pandemic in Europe at this point in time but should the threat increase, the UK has a wealth of scientific and engineering expertise which can be deployed to ramp up the countermeasures necessary to protect the population at large.

    Let’s keep things in perspective. This is not 1918; and with over 30 million doses of antiviral treatments, effective against H1N1 available in the UK right now we are well placed to combat any outbreak.

    We should also bear in mind that there are two flu-vaccine manufacturers in the UK (Novartis and Medimmune) and whilst there may be capacity issues, both companies are technically capable of producing appropriate vaccines.

     

    PROFESSOR HUGH PENNINGTON, LEADING BACTERIOLOGIST

    It’s a new virus – we’ve never before seen this combination of swine virus and human virus genes.

    It’s very difficult to make any predictions when it’s not like any flu virus before.

    If there are no more cases in the next couple of weeks then we can maybe say with reasonable confidence that we’re out of the woods.

    But the flu virus is a pretty awkward customer and you have to be very circumspect.

    I don’t think the public health authorities will be giving the all-clear for some time yet.

     

    PROFESSOR ANGUS NICOLL, EUROPEAN CENTRE FOR DISEASE PREVENTION AND CONTROL

    We have a very confusing picture coming out of Mexico.

    We are not aware of how many people there are with mild infections out of Mexico. It may be that those few deaths represent just the tip of an iceberg which is a lot more much milder infections.

    Therefore we feel that one should not be looking at Mexico and saying that is the pattern we will necessarily be following in Europe.

    We do know from previous influenza viruses and previous pandemics that what you see at the start is not necessarily what you see six months, a year or two years later. Sometimes you get a second or third wave which is more vicious than the first.

    As a region, Europe – and particularly the European Union – is better prepared than any other part of the world.

    Unfortunately you can never prepare well enough. We are beyond the stage of being able to contain the virus, we can only mitigate it and there is still more work to be done – and a cool summer would give us time to do some additional work.

  • UK Homes To Get Swine Flu Advice

    Posted on April 29th, 2009 admin No comments

    Leaflets about the swine flu outbreak and how to prevent its spread are to be delivered to every UK household.

    The Department of Health is also “urgently looking” at increasing stockpiles of facemasks, most likely for issue to health professionals.

    The results of swine flu tests on 23 people in Scotland are expected later. A Falkirk couple, who recently returned from Mexico, are the UK’s first cases.

    The virus is thought to have killed nearly 160 people in Mexico.

    The number of swine flu cases globally is rising, though no-one outside Mexico has died.

    Prime Minister Gordon Brown is to be briefed on the latest developments on Wednesday by the chief medical officer for England, Sir Liam Donaldson, and Health Secretary Alan Johnson.

    Information campaign

    Delivery of the government leaflets is due to start within the next few days.

    “Guidelines for doctors issued a few months ago anticipated this kind of public information campaign as an important part of the current phase four alert,” said BBC health correspondent Branwen Jeffreys.

     

     Available scientific evidence does not support the general wearing of facemasks by those who are not ill whilst going about their normal activities 
    Department of Health spokesman

    The World Health Organization (WHO) raised its pandemic alert status to level four on Monday – two levels from a full pandemic – after concluding there had been sustained transmission between humans.

    But a national pandemic flu helpline set out in the government plans is not expected to be operational before the autumn.

    The prime minister has said Britain is “among the best prepared countries in the world” to deal with the outbreak.

    “We have been preparing for this kind of scenario for many years,” he said, insisting that Britain was now taking “all the urgent action that is necessary”.

    A Department of Health spokesman said: “We are urgently looking into how we can increase our current stockpiles of facemasks for healthcare workers who would come into close contact with symptomatic individuals during an influenza pandemic.”

    The spokesman said that “available scientific evidence does not support the general wearing of facemasks by those who are not ill whilst going about their normal activities”.

    Chief medical officer for Scotland, Dr Harry Burns, is hoping for the results of tests on 23 people displaying swine flu symptoms.

    Fourteen have been screened after returning from Mexico or the US, while nine had been in contact with the British couple confirmed as having swine flu.

    Iain and Dawn Askham, of Polmont, near Falkirk, are continuing to improve at Monklands Hospital in Airdrie, Lanarkshire.

    It has emerged they were mixing with people at home and work for five days after their return from honeymoon in Cancun, before feeling ill and being admitted to hospital.

    If any of the Askhams’ friends or workmates test positive, “it will mean the infection was transmitted here in Scotland”, says Scotland correspondent Colin Blane.

    CONFIRMED & SUSPECTED CASES
    launch map
    Mexico: 159 suspected deaths – 20 confirmed cases
    US: 64 confirmed cases
    Canada: 13 confirmed cases
    New Zealand: 3 confirmed cases
    UK, Spain, Israel: 2 confirmed cases each
    Countries with suspected cases: Brazil, Guatemala, Peru, Australia, and South Korea, and seven EU states

    The chief medical officer for Wales, Tony Jewell, said there were eight suspected cases under investigation in the nation – all linked to travel in Mexico.

    The Health Protection Agency said it was not releasing details about any suspected cases in England until swine flu was confirmed.

    Wiltshire Primary Care Trust has said that seven people are being tested, while two cases are under investigation in Derbyshire.

    Tests carried out on a female patient at West Middlesex hospital in west London have proved negative.

    In Northern Ireland the chief medical officer, Dr Liz Mitchell, said it was likely that there would be cases, although there was none currently under investigation.

    The health secretary has said a stockpile of anti-viral drugs will be used to treat patients showing symptoms of the disease, should the virus start spreading in the UK.

    Sir Liam Donaldson said: “If a new pandemic does start as a result of this outbreak in Mexico and the United States, we can’t make it go away, but what we can do through our plans, particularly our stockpiles of anti-virals, is mitigate its effect.”

    But the Conservatives have criticised the government over the national flu helpline, which was supposed to be ready in early 2009.

    Shadow health minister Stephen O’Brien said: “The national flu line will be crucial if a pandemic were to happen in Britain, by allowing people to get the information and the anti-virals they will need to fight the flu without having to go to GP surgeries or hospitals.”

    Cancelled holidays

    NHS Direct has stopped call centre staff from booking any new periods of time off until further notice in response to the expected high demand for the service.

    There were 57% more visits to the NHS Direct website on Monday afternoon and Tuesday morning compared with the same period last week.

    Official UK guidance is that anyone with flu-like symptoms who might have been in contact with the virus – such as those living or travelling in the affected areas of Mexico – should seek medical advice.

    SWINE FLU
    Swine flu is a respiratory disease thought to spread through coughing and sneezing
    Symptoms mimic those of normal flu. In Mexico more than 150 people are thought to have died from the virus
    Good hygiene like using a tissue and washing hands thoroughly can help reduce transmission

    But patients are being asked not to go into GP surgeries in order to minimise the risk of spreading the disease to others. Instead, they should stay at home and call their healthcare provider for advice.

    Swine flu is usually found in pigs and contracted only by people in contact with the animals.

    The Foreign Office is advising against all but essential travel to Mexico, also urging travellers to “consult a doctor immediately if they show signs of flu-like symptoms”.

    The department has suspended routine consular and visa services at the Mexico City embassy.

    On Tuesday, Thomas Cook cancelled all Thomas Cook and Airtours holidays to the resort of Cancun for the next seven days.

    Holiday firms Thomson and First Choice have cancelled all outbound flights to Cancun and Cozumel, up to and including 8 May, and are starting repatriation flights for British holidaymakers already in Mexico.

    British Airways, which has four flights a week to Mexico City, said it would not be cancelling any flights.

  • The UK Is One Of The Best Prepared Countries

    Posted on April 28th, 2009 admin No comments
     
    The UK is one of the best prepared countries to deal with swine flu and “all action necessary” will be taken to stop its spread, Gordon Brown has said.

    The prime minister took part in a meeting of the government’s emergency committee Cobra by phone from Poland.

    The Foreign Office is advising against all but essential travel to Mexico. Three tour firms have stopped flights.

    Following the confirmation of two cases in Scotland, the health secretary said there would undoubtedly be more.

    The first UK cases are Iain and Dawn Askham, of Polmont, near Falkirk, who had been on honeymoon in Mexico.

    The prime minister said: “I understand the very real concern that people have in Britain and across the world.

    “As you know there have been two confirmed cases and I believe that both patients are in better health.”

    Iain and Dawn Askham 

    Iain and Dawn Askham had been on honeymoon in Mexico

    “Let me reassure you that we have been preparing for this kind of scenario for many years.”

    Health Secretary Alan Johnson said: “There are no more confirmed cases at this stage, although undoubtedly there will be.

    “But all the cases, anywhere other than Mexico, have been very mild symptoms, from which people have recovered.”

    Justin McCracken, of the Health Protection Agency, said his organisation was ensuring that each suspect case in the UK would receive “very careful treatment and screening”.

    This is so that “we can do everything possible to increase our understanding of the virus as quickly as possible, and of course to minimise its spread”, he added.

    The World Health Organization (WHO) has raised its alert level to four – two steps short of declaring a pandemic.

    Level four means the virus is showing a sustained ability to pass from human to human, and is able to cause community-level outbreaks.

    Following the raising of this alert level, a statement on the Foreign Office website said: “Cases of swine influenza have been reported in Mexico City and a number of other locations across the country.

    “Travellers should consult a doctor immediately if they show signs of flu-like symptoms.”

    The department has suspended routine consular and visa services at the Mexico City embassy.

    launch map

    The statement said: “British nationals should continue to follow local advice on precautions to take to avoid exposure to the influenza.”

    Holiday firms Thomson and First Choice cancelled flights to the Mexican resort of Cancun on Tuesday morning – one from Manchester and the other from Gatwick – and are reviewing future flights.

    A spokesman said: “While we do appreciate that the new news may be a great disappointment to customers, we hope they will also understand that their health and safety is of paramount importance to us.”

    The company said it would start repatriation flights for British holidaymakers already in Mexico.

    Thomas Cook said all Thomas Cook and Airtours holidays to Cancun have been cancelled for the next seven days.

    Passengers flying back into the UK from Mexico saw airport staff wearing masks

    British Airways, which has four flights a week to Mexico City, said it would not be cancelling any flights.

    Johnson said UK preparations had been going on for the last five years to cope with a flu pandemic.

    He said the government proposed to use its stockpile of anti-viral drugs to treat patients showing symptoms of the disease, should the virus start spreading in the UK.

    England’s Chief Medical Officer Sir Liam Donaldson said: “If a new pandemic does start as a result of this outbreak in Mexico and the United States, we can’t make it go away, but what we can do through our plans, particularly our stockpiles of anti-virals, is mitigate its effect.”

    But the Conservatives have criticised the government for falling behind with plans to set up a national flu helpline.

    The telephone service was supposed to be ready in early 2009 but is not expected to be operational until the autumn.

    Shadow health minister Stephen O’Brien has called on the government to “take action quickly”.

    “The national flu line will be crucial if a pandemic were to happen in Britain, by allowing people to get the information and the anti-virals they will need to fight the flu without having to go to GP surgeries or hospitals,” he said.

    NHS Direct has stopped call centre staff from booking any new periods of time off until further notice in response to the high expected demand for the service.

    There were 57% more visits to the NHS Direct website on Monday afternoon and Tuesday morning compared with the same period last week.

    Mr and Mrs Askham are continuing to improve at Monklands Hospital in Airdrie, Lanarkshire, where they are being treated following their return from honeymoon in Cancun.

    Scottish Health Secretary Nicola Sturgeon said the couple were “doing well” but no decision had been taken on when they would be discharged.

    Swine flu is a respiratory disease thought to spread through coughing and sneezing
    Symptoms mimic those of normal flu. In Mexico more than 150 people are thought to have died from the virus
    Good hygiene like using a tissue and washing hands thoroughly can help reduce transmission

    She said 23 other people were displaying symptoms across Scotland, but swine flu had not been confirmed.

    Nine of those people had been in contact with the Askhams. The other 14 had “travel connections” to Mexico, she said.

    The chief medical officer for Wales, Tony Jewell, said there were eight suspected cases under investigation in the nation. All were linked to travel in Mexico, he added.

    The Health Protection Agency said it was not releasing details about any suspected cases in England until swine flu is confirmed.

    In Northern Ireland the chief medical officer, Dr Liz Mitchell, said it was likely that there would be cases, although there were none currently under investigation.

    The Department of Health (DoH) said surveillance arrangements were being “stepped up” in the UK, without revealing details. It added the outbreak was “unusual and of concern”.

    Professor Steve Field, chairman of the Royal College of General Practitioners, said people in the UK were “perfectly safe at the moment”, and did not need to start wearing facemasks or stop eating pork.

    “I don’t think people in this country need to be worried at the moment, the focus needs to be on people coming in from Mexico and other areas where this infection has taken hold,” he said.

    Sir Liam Donaldson’s advice on concerns over swine flu

    Official UK guidance is that anyone with flu-like symptoms who might have been in contact with the virus – such as those living or travelling in the affected areas of Mexico – should seek medical advice.

    But patients are being asked not to go into GP surgeries in order to minimise the risk of spreading the disease to others. Instead, they should stay at home and call their healthcare provider for advice.

    Swine flu is usually found in pigs and contracted only by people in contact with the animals.

  • More Countries Confirm Swine Flu

    Posted on April 28th, 2009 admin No comments

    New cases of the deadly swine flu virus have been confirmed as far afield as New Zealand and Israel, as the UN warns it cannot be contained.

    The US, Canada, Spain and Britain confirmed cases earlier but no deaths have been reported outside Mexico, where the virus was first reported.

    Mexico has raised the number of probable deaths to 152, with 1,614 suspected sufferers under observation.

    UN inspectors are to examine reports that pig farms spread the virus.

    The UN’s health agency, the World Health Organization, confirmed that the flu had spread between humans.

     

    CONFIRMED & SUSPECTED CASES
    Mexico: 152 suspected deaths – 20 confirmed cases
    US: 51 confirmed cases
    Canada: 6 confirmed cases
    New Zealand: 3 confirmed cases
    UK, Spain, Israel: 2 confirmed cases each
    Countries with suspected cases: Brazil, Guatemala, Peru, Australia, and South Korea, and seven EU states


    Several countries have issued warnings against travelling to Mexico, but the WHO and the EU’s health chief, Androulla Vassiliou, said such measures would do little to combat the flu’s spread.

    WHO spokesman Gregory Hartl said experts were working on a vaccine, but said it could take five or six months to develop.

    Health experts say the virus comes from the same strain that causes seasonal outbreaks in humans, but also contains genetic material from versions of flu which usually affect pigs and birds.

    In New Zealand, Health Minister Tony Ryall said at least three students who had travelled to Mexico had swine flu.

    Israeli health officials confirmed on Tuesday that the country now had two people infected with the virus. Both sufferers had recently been to Mexico.

    UN alert raised

    Fifty-one cases have been confirmed in the US, six in Canada, two in the UK and two in Spain

    The EU said patients were also under observation in Denmark, Sweden, Greece, the Czech Republic, Germany, Italy and Ireland.

    Tests are being carried out on individuals or groups in Brazil, Guatemala, Peru, Australia and South Korea.

    A number of countries in Asia, Latin America and Europe have begun screening airport passengers for symptoms, while Germany’s biggest tour operator has suspended trips to Mexico.

    The UN’s Food and Agriculture Organisation (FAO) is sending a team to Mexico to investigate rumours that people had been falling ill last month near some intensive pig farms.

    The WHO raised its pandemic (global epidemic) alert status to level four on Monday – two levels from a full pandemic – after concluding there had been sustained transmission between humans.

    Levels five and six are reserved for when there is widespread human infection.

    WHO spokesman Mr Hartl said there are a number of cases in New York “which appear to be human-to-human transmission”.

     

    SWINE FLU
    Swine flu is a respiratory disease thought to spread through coughing and sneezing
    Symptoms mimic those of normal flu
    Good hygiene like using a tissue and washing hands thoroughly can help reduce transmission

    He said if the New York cases were confirmed, the WHO was likely to raise its alert to level five.

    The UN body is encouraging countries to begin intensive surveillance of possible infection.

    The WHO said this would help to identify where the virus is, who has it, what its source was and what kind of illness it produced.

    In Mexico, swine flu has been confirmed in 20 of the 152 known deaths.

    In almost all cases outside Mexico, people have been only mildly ill and have made a full recovery.

  • How Swine Flu Outbreak Emerged

    Posted on April 28th, 2009 admin No comments
    Flu viruses in different species
    Flu viruses mutate over time causing small changes to proteins on their surface called antigens. If the immune system has met particular strain of the virus before it is likely to have some immunity; but if the antigens are new to the immune system, it will be weakened. The flu currently making headlines is a strain of H1N1 influenza A virus, which affects birds, some mammals and humans.
    Infection control experts are scrambling to respond to outbreaks of swine flu in Mexico and the US, and suspected cases elsewhere.

    What is swine flu?

    Swine flu is a respiratory disease, caused by influenza type A which infects pigs.

    There are many types, and the infection is constantly changing.

    Until now it has not normally infected humans, but the latest form clearly does, and can be spread from person to person – probably through coughing and sneezing.

    What is new about this type of swine flu?

    The World Health Organization has confirmed that at least some of the human cases are a never-before-seen version of the H1N1 strain of influenza type A.

     

    SWINE FLU
    Symptoms usually similar to seasonal flu – but deaths recorded in Mexico
    It is a new version of the H1N1 strain which caused the 1918 flu pandemic
    Too early to say whether it will lead to a pandemic
    Current treatments do work, but there is no vaccine
    Good personal hygiene, such as washing hands, covering nose when sneezing advised

    H1N1 is the same strain which causes seasonal outbreaks of flu in humans on a regular basis.

    But this latest version of H1N1 is different: it contains genetic material that is typically found in strains of the virus that affect humans, birds and swine.

    Flu viruses have the ability to swap genetic components with each other, and it seems likely that the new version of H1N1 resulted from a mixing of different versions of the virus, which may usually affect different species, in the same animal host.

    Pigs provide an excellent ‘melting pot’ for these viruses to mix and match with each other.

    How dangerous is it?

    Symptoms of swine flu in humans appear to be similar to those produced by standard, seasonal flu.

    These include fever, cough, sore throat, body aches, chills and fatigue.

    Most cases so far reported around the world appear to be mild, but in Mexico lives have been lost.

    How worried should people be?

    When any new strain of flu emerges that acquires the ability to pass from person to person, it is monitored very closely in case it has the potential to spark a global epidemic, or pandemic.

     

    FLU PANDEMICS
    1918: The Spanish flu pandemic remains the most devastating outbreak of modern times. Caused by a form of the H1N1 strain of flu, it is estimated that up to 40% of the world’s population were infected, and more than 50 million people died, with young adults particularly badly affected
    1957: Asian flu killed two million people. Caused by a human form of the virus, H2N2, combining with a mutated strain found in wild ducks. The impact of the pandemic was minimised by rapid action by health authorities, who identified the virus, and made vaccine available speedily. The elderly were particularly vulnerable
    1968: An outbreak first detected in Hong Kong, and caused by a strain known as H3N2, killed up to one million people globally, with those over 65 most likely to die

    The World Health Organization has warned that taken together the Mexican and US cases could potentially trigger a global pandemic, and stress that the situation is serious.

    However, experts say it is still too early to accurately assess the situation fully.

    Currently, they say the world is closer to a flu pandemic than at any point since 1968 – rating the threat at four on a six-point scale.

    Nobody knows the full potential impact of a pandemic, but experts have warned that it could cost millions of lives worldwide. The Spanish flu pandemic, which began in 1918, and was also caused by an H1N1 strain, killed millions of people.

    The fact that all the cases in the US and elsewhere have so far produced mild symptoms is encouraging. It suggests that the severity of the Mexican outbreak may be due to an unusual geographically-specific factor – possibly a second unrelated virus circulating in the community – which would be unlikely to come into play in the rest of the world.

    Alternatively, people infected in Mexico may have sought treatment at a much later stage than those in other countries.

    It may also be the case that the form of the virus circulating in Mexico is subtly different to that elsewhere – although that will only be confirmed by laboratory analysis.

    There is also hope that, as humans are often exposed to forms of H1N1 through seasonal flu, our immune systems may have something of a head start in fighting infection.

    However, the fact that many of the victims are young does point to something unusual. Normal, seasonal flu tends to affect the elderly disproportionately.

    Can the virus be contained?

    The virus appears already to have started to spread around the world, and most experts believe that containment of the virus in the era of readily available air travel will be extremely difficult.

    Can it be treated?

    The US authorities say that two drugs commonly used to treat flu, Tamiflu and Relenza, seem to be effective at treating cases that have occurred there so far. However, the drugs must be administered at an early stage to be effective.

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

    The UK Government already has a stockpile of Tamiflu, ordered as a precaution against a pandemic.

    It is unclear how effective currently available flu vaccines would be at offering protection against the new strain, as it is genetically distinct from other flu strains.

    US scientists are already developing a bespoke new vaccine, but it may take some time to perfect it, and manufacture enough supplies to meet what could be huge demand.

    A vaccine was used to protect humans from a version of swine flu in the US in 1976.

    However, it caused serious side effects, including an estimated 500 cases of Guillain-Barré syndrome. There were more deaths from the vaccine than the outbreak.

    What should I do to stay safe?

    Anyone with flu-like symptoms who might have been in contact with the swine virus – such as those living or travelling in the areas of Mexico that have been affected – should seek medical advice.

    But patients are being asked not to go into GP surgeries in order to minimise the risk of spreading the disease to others. Instead, they should stay at home and call their healthcare provider for advice.

    After the WHO raised its alert level over swine flu, the Foreign and Commonwealth Office began advising against all but essential travel to Mexico.

    What measures can I take to prevent infection?

    Avoid close contact with people who appear unwell and who have fever and cough.

    General infection control practices and good hygiene can help to reduce transmission of all viruses, including the human swine influenza. This includes covering your nose and mouth when coughing or sneezing, using a tissue when possible and disposing of it promptly.

    It is also important to wash your hands frequently with soap and water to reduce the spread of the virus from your hands to face or to other people and cleaning hard surfaces like door handles frequently using a normal cleaning product.

    If caring for someone with a flu-like illness, a mask can be worn to cover the nose and mouth to reduce the risk of transmission. The UK is looking at increasing its stockpile of masks for healthcare workers for this reason.

    But experts say there is no scientific evidence to support more general wearing of masks to guard against infections.

    Is it safe to eat pig meat?

    Yes. There is no evidence that swine flu can be transmitted through eating meat from infected animals.

    However, it is essential to cook meat properly. A temperature of 70C (158F) would be sure to kill the virus.

    What about bird flu?

    The strain of bird flu which has caused scores of human deaths in South East Asia in recent years is a different strain to that responsible for the current outbreak of swine flu.

    The latest form of swine flu is a new type of the H1N1 strain, while bird, or avian flu, is H5N1.

    Experts fear H5N1 hold the potential to trigger a pandemic because of its ability to mutate rapidly.

    However, up until now it has remained very much a disease of birds.

    Those humans who have been infected have, without exception, worked closely with birds, and cases of human-to-human transmission are extremely rare – there is no suggestion that H5N1 has gained the ability to pass easily from person to person.

  • ‘Too Late’ To Contain Swine Flu

    Posted on April 28th, 2009 admin No comments

    WHO flu expert Dr Keiji Fukuda: “Containment is not a feasible operation”

    A deadly swine flu virus first detected in Mexico can no longer be contained, a World Health Organization (WHO) official has said.

    WHO Assistant Director General Keiji Fukuda said countries should now focus on mitigating the effects of the virus.

    The WHO has raised its alert level from three to four, two steps short of declaring a full pandemic.

    The number of probable deaths from the virus in Mexico has officially risen to 152 though only 20 cases are confirmed.

    The US, Canada, Spain and Britain have confirmed milder versions.

    ‘Not inevitable’

    The WHO’s decision to raise the alert level to four came after an emergency meeting of experts, brought forward by a day because of concerns over the outbreak.

    WHO PANDEMIC ALERT PHASES
    Phase 1: No viruses circulating among animals causing infections in humans
    Phase 2: Animal influenza virus causes infection in humans, and is considered potential pandemic threat
    Phase 3: Influenza causes sporadic cases in people, but no significant human-to-human transmission
    Phase 4: Verified human-to-human transmission able to cause community-level outbreaks. Significant increase in risk of a pandemic
    Phase 5: Human-to-human transmission in at least two countries. Strong signal pandemic imminent
    Phase 6: Virus spreads to another country in a different region. Global pandemic under way

    Level four means the virus is showing a sustained ability to pass from human to human, and is able to cause community-level outbreaks.

    “What this can really be interpreted as is a significant step towards pandemic influenza. But also, it is a phase that says we are not there yet,” Mr Fukuda said.

    “In other words, at this time we think we have taken a step in that direction, but a pandemic is not considered inevitable.”

    He said the virus had become too widespread to make containment a feasible option, and said countries must focus on trying to put measures in place to protect the population.

    He also stressed that the experts did not recommend closing borders or restricting travel. “With the virus being widespread… closing borders or restricting travel really has very little effects in stopping the movement of this virus,” he said.

    The first batches of a swine flu vaccine could be ready in four to six months’ time, but it will take several more months to produce large quantities of it, Mr Fukuda said.

    Health experts say the virus comes from the same strain that causes seasonal outbreaks in humans. But they say this newly detected version contains genetic material from versions of flu which usually affect pigs and birds.

    ‘Decline in cases’

    Mexican Health Minister Jose Angel Cordova said the suspected death toll from swine flu had risen to 152. Of that number, 20 have been confirmed as swine flu.

     

    SPREAD OF VIRUS
    Mexico: 20 confirmed cases (152 suspected deaths)
    United States: 50 confirmed cases
    Canada: 6 confirmed cases
    UK: 2 confirmed cases
    Spain: 1 confirmed case
    Israel, Brazil, Guatemala, Peru, Australia, New Zealand, and South Korea: Suspected cases being tested

    Reporting earlier, he said that all of those who had died were aged between 20 and 50. Infections among young healthy adults were a characteristic of past pandemics.

    He said the first suspected case of swine flu had occurred in the southern state of Oaxaca but stressed that nobody knew “the point of origin or dissemination” of the virus.

    Nearly 2,000 people had been hospitalised since the first case of swine flu was reported on 13 April, he added, but half had now been allowed home.

    Mr Cordova noted that the number of new cases reported by Mexico’s largest government hospitals had declined during the past three days: from 141 on Saturday to 119 on Sunday and 110 on Monday.

    Schools nationwide are to remain closed until 6 May as the country grapples with the outbreak.

    In almost all swine flu cases outside Mexico, people have been only mildly ill and have made a full recovery.

    Travel advice

    In the US, a further 20 cases of swine flu were confirmed in New York. Cases have also been reported in Ohio, Kansas, Texas and California, bringing the total across the country to 50.

    SWINE FLU
    Swine flu is a respiratory disease thought to spread through coughing and sneezing
    Symptoms mimic those of normal flu
    Good hygiene like using a tissue and washing hands thoroughly can help reduce transmission

    Dr Richard Besser, acting director of the US Centers of Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), warned that a new US travel advisory was being prepared suggesting non-essential travel to Mexico should be avoided.

    US Secretary of State Hillary Clinton and EU Health Commissioner Androulla Vassiliou have separately urged caution for those considering travelling to Mexico.

    In Canada, six cases have been recorded at opposite ends of the country, in British Columbia and in Nova Scotia.

    Swine flu officially arrived in Europe on Monday, when tests confirmed that a young man in Spain and two people in Scotland – all of whom had recently returned from Mexico – had the virus. They were said to be recovering well.

    Tests are also being carried out on individuals or groups in New Zealand, Australia, Brazil, Israel and South Korea who fell ill following travel to Mexico.

    A number of countries in Asia, Latin America and Europe have begun screening airport passengers for symptoms, while Germany’s biggest tour operator has suspended trips to Mexico.

    Taiwan has announced it will quarantine any visitors showing symptoms of swine flu.

    Several countries have banned imports of raw pork and pork products from Mexico and parts of the US, although experts say there is no evidence to link exposure to pork with infection.

    Shares in airlines have fallen sharply on fears about the economic impact of the outbreak.