Swine flu: confirmed cases to be treated only

HEALTH bosses in East Anglia have responded to new advice from the Government and changed the way they treat swine flu.

Elliot Furniss

HEALTH bosses in East Anglia have responded to new advice from the Government and changed the way they treat swine flu.

The move by the East of England Strategic Health Authority (SHA) came following an announcement by Health Secretary Andy Burnham yesterday and the new approach means medics will only treat confirmed cases of the virus.

Until now close contacts of laboratory-confirmed cases had received antivirals as a precautionary measure, but this will now cease. The SHA says growing levels of swine flu in the community means contact-tracing and treatment is no longer effective to stop the spread of the illness.

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GPs will now provide clinical diagnosis of swine flu cases, rather than awaiting laboratory test results, and will arrange for patients to receive anti-viral drugs.

Dr Paul Cosford, regional director of public health, said the reason for the change in approach was because the region had “moved past” the stage where swabbing patients and tracing contacts was “practical or effective”.

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He said: “The swine flu virus is spreading in communities and will continue to spread. We have seen the emergence of a number of clusters over the last couple of weeks and so the NHS has moved to a treatment only phase, i.e. only treating those who are ill.

“Flu is a mild illness for the majority of people but for a minority, it can become more serious so we are being cautious and providing anti-viral drugs to all.”

Mike Gogarty, Director of Public Health for NHS North East Essex, said people should begin selecting “flu friends” who could help them by collecting antivirals in case they fall ill.

He said: “Scientists now expect to see rapid rises in the number of cases. We have always known it would be impossible to contain the virus indefinitely, and now it is right that we move into the treatment phase - treating the increasing numbers affected by swine flu.

“People who have the virus will still be offered antivirals, to be collected from antiviral collection points.

“If Swine flu is confirmed, people will be given an authorisation voucher, which a 'flu friend' can take to an antiviral collection point to pick up their antivirals. This may be a pharmacy or a community centre.

“A 'flu friend' is a person nominated by the patient to collect antivirals on their behalf so I would encourage people at this point to consider who they would nominate should the need arise.”

Anyone with flu-like symptoms should visit www.nhs.uk and compare their symptoms, calling NHS Direct on 0845 46 47 or the swine flu information line on 0800 1513 513 if necessary.

Anyone who is still concerned should contact their GP but patients have been asked not to go to emergency departments unless told to do so.

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