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Maxine Fay Miller

Swine Flu Alert


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08 May 2009

One of the most disastrous pandemics in recent history was the Spanish Flu (1918 to 1919) which killed up to 100 million people. The current Swine Flu is the same strain of flu - the H1N1 virus and is closely linked to the Bird Flu (H5N1). Swine Flu has killed 152 people since it was identified in Mexico on April 13 and nearly 2,000 people are believed to be infected in Mexico.

There are six WHO phases in the spread and danger of viral infection

Phase 1: No animal viruses currently circulating are causing infections in humans.

Phase 2: An animal flu virus is known to have caused human infection and is considered a potential pandemic threat.

Phase 3: Limited human-to-human transmission may occur. This does not yet indicate that the virus has gained transmissibility that would cause a pandemic.

Phase 4: Human-to-human transmission able to cause "community-level outbreaks". There is a significant increase in pandemic risk.

Phase 5: Human-to-human spread of the virus into at least two countries in one WHO region. A strong signal that pandemic is imminent.

Phase 6: Pandemic phase, characterised by community level outbreaks in at least one other country in a different WHO region along with phase 5.

The World Health Organisation (WHO) increased the threat level posed by Swine Flu from level four to level five. This level indicates that Swine Flu is spreading and transmitting itself in localised areas from human to human and that a pandemic is imminent.

In the UK at least two cases appear to have been imported from Mexico where a couple were on their honeymoon in Cancun, Mexico. They are being treated in isolation in a hospital in Lanarkshire, Scotland. Several other people who have come into contact with them since their return have since developed mild flu symptoms. There are some 28 cases in the UK.

Gordon Brown pledged that the Government would take "all the urgent action that is necessary" to halt the spread of swine flu. He further insisted that Britain was well-prepared to deal with a major flu outbreak.

Brown has taken part in a meeting of the Government's Cobra emergencies committee being chaired by the Health Secretary Alan Johnson. Johnson told MPs it was too early to say if there was a pandemic, but the UK had been preparing for one for five years and had a stock of 33 million anti-flu drugs. He said it was important to note that outside Mexico all those who had shown symptoms of swine flu had recovered.

According to The Guardian if the situation deteriorates Johnson is considering warning the entire population to set up a support network of friends and relatives, so they can be quickly quarantined at home if they are thought to have symptoms. The friends would then collect medicine on their behalf thereby reducing the risk of spreading the virus.

According to Professor Ferguson of Imperial College, London, cases of Swine Flu were likely to die down within a matter of weeks because the UK was moving out of the normal season for flu infection, but cases may flare up again in the autumn.

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

Dr Baker, the honorary secretary of the Royal College of GPs, told the BBC Radio 4 Today programme: "GPs should be saying to people not to panic, that we are well prepared and that most people who get ill with flu will have a nasty bout of flu and get better within a week, even if it is swine flu and that early doses of anti-virals such as Tamiflu are helping people to recover."

The Foreign Office said: "We are now advising against all but essential travel to Mexico." It added that British nationals "resident in or visiting Mexico may wish to consider whether they should remain in Mexico at this time".

Travel operators Thomsons have cancelled all flights to Mexico. Passengers due to fly to Mexico with Thomson this morning have been offered an alternative holiday or a refund. The company is now making arrangements to get customers home from Mexico, and repatriation flights were expected to start today.

As well as Mexico and the United States outbreaks have also been confirmed in Canada and Spain -six cases were confirmed in Canada and a further one in Spain. Suspected cases from New Zealand to Israel were raising concern that the new virus was spreading rapidly. There are four suspected cases in the Irish Republic.

In the US, the number of Swine Flu cases rose to 50, the result of further testing at a New York City school, although none was fatal. Other US cases have been reported in Ohio, Kansas, Texas and California. Peru and Guatemala have reported their first suspected infections in other parts of Latin America, where health officials fear swine flu has spread but not been reported.

In Mexico the epidemic is spreading rapidly. Mexican health secretary Jose Angel Cordova said the epidemic was entering an extremely dangerous phase, with the number of people infected mushrooming even as authorities were improving defences. In response, the government closed schools across the country. Nearly 2,000 people had been treated in hospital for suspected infection, he said. Half of them have been released

Symptoms to look out for

The symptoms of Mexican swine flu are similar to those of ordinary
flu, but may be more severe and cause more serious complications.

The typical symptoms are:

sudden fever
sudden cough
sore throat
runny nose
aching muscles
limb or joint pain
diarrhea, vomiting or stomach upset
loss of appetite

How to protect yourselves

Avoid contact with people with flu
Avoid contact with surfaces contaminated by flu e.g. desks, escalators, doors which people with a flu have touched
Wash your hands before eating and touching your face
Get plenty of sleep
Eat plenty of fresh fruit and vegetables
Keep physically active
Drink lots of water so you stay hydrated

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