Health workers prepare for swine flu

HEALTH bosses in Suffolk are putting in place plans to cope with a potential outbreak of swine flu, they confirmed yesterday.

Lizzie Parry

HEALTH bosses in Suffolk are putting in place plans to cope with a potential outbreak of swine flu, they confirmed yesterday.

On Monday the World Health Organisation said the deadly swine flu virus could not be contained and raised the level of influenza pandemic alert from three to four, indicating sustained human to human transmission of the illness.

At phase four “community level outbreaks” are expected as the risk of a pandemic significantly increases. But it does not mean that a pandemic is a forgone conclusion.

Frontline staff in Suffolk are being given advice in accordance with the Department of Health and Health Protection Agency guidelines, to ensure they are fully prepared after the first two cases in the UK were confirmed.

As part of the plans to prepare the county a spokesperson for NHS Suffolk said they were putting in place the right procedures to distribute antiviral drugs, such as Tamiflu and Relenza, should it be necessary.

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“The government has a stockpile of antiviral drugs which should be sufficient to treat up to 50% of the population if they become ill - a reasonable worst case scenario.

“The health secretary has said that the drugs have been shown to be effective if given in good time.

“In Suffolk we are putting the necessary plans in place to ensure their distribution if this situation becomes necessary.”

The health authority is urging people returning from infected areas to remain vigilant of the symptoms associated with the potentially fatal illness.

Their advice echoes that issued nationally and internationally, but health bosses were quick to reassure the Suffolk public, the threat of catching swine flu is very low.

The spokesperson added: “It continues to be the case that anyone who has visited one of the countries or areas where human cases of influenza have been identified should monitor their health closely for seven days after the visit to the affected area.

“If during this period they develop a feverish illness accompanied by one or more of cough, sore throat, headache and muscle aches, they should stay at home and contact their GP by phone or seek advice from NHS Direct on 0845 4647.

“It should be stressed that the risk of catching this influenza is very low.”

General infection control practices and good respiratory hand hygiene can help to reduce transmission of all viruses, including the recent H1N1 strain, swine flu.

Prime Minister Gordon Brown said Britain was “among the best prepared countries in the world”.

He added that the Government was taking “all the urgent action that is necessary” to help prevent the spread of the virus.

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.