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Swine flu

31st May 2011
flu virus testing

Keep track of the swine flu virus.

Researchers track swine flu source

31st May 2011

Pigs imported from Europe and North America into China seem like a probable source for the swine flu virus, according to a recent study by researchers in Hong Kong, China, and Singapore.

The researchers monitored flu viruses in pigs over a period of 12 years, and concluded that the most lethal flu virus, against which humans have no immunity, originated in Europe.

Southern China has the largest swine population in the entire world.

Vijaykrishna Dhanasekaran, assistant professor at the Duke-NUS Graduate Medical School's Program of Emerging Infectious Diseases in Singapore, said that Eurasian and North American flu viruses had entered pig populations in southern China and replaced the earlier viruses since about 2001.

He said that the practice of importing pigs for breeding purposes had increased in southern China over the past 20 years, since farmers wanted to improve the quality of their stock.

Since 1998, the researchers have collected more than 650 samples of flu virus from about 800 blood samples.

After the researchers had taken the viral samples, they compared the pathogens to those found in Europe, North America, and Asia.

Surprisingly, all of the viral specimens belonged to just three lineages.

The most dominant flu virus was the Eurasian avian-like H1N1 virus.

The second was North American in origin, and had been circulating in pigs since the 1990s.

The third, the H1N1 swine flu virus, has been circulating in China and abroad for over 80 years.

Dhanasekaran said that scientists now had a better understanding of the way viruses traveled around the world.

He said that the Eurasian avian-like H1N1 virus would be a particular problem, since the human immune system had not developed any antibodies against it.

The way viruses have spread means that people's overall viral exposure is greater than it would have been in a past era, but the researchers are not certain if this affects people's level of risk.

However, the fact that there are so many viruses may increase the probability that specific viruses have the opportunity to mutate into human-transmissible forms.

Dhanasekaran said that viral diversity varied geographically, and that he believed researchers should conduct surveillance and target specific viruses.

The researchers hope that understanding the way viruses evolve may help humans to spot viruses that are best able to spread to humans, to soften the blow of the next pandemic.


Hong Kong extracts swine flu antibodies

8th February 2011

Doctors in Hong Kong will make use of this year's swine flu epidemic by taking antibody samples from patients who fared well and giving them to severely ill patients.

The doctors hope to enrol 70 people with good antibodies in the study, especially since the amount of people successfully producing flu antibodies is generally lower this winter than last winter.

Kelvin To, a clinical assistant professor at the University of Hong Kong's microbiology department, said he believed that this year's flu virus would prove hardier than most.

Owing to the dry cold and the length of the winter this year, this year's version of the swine flu virus may have an increased chance of surviving over other types of swine flu.

In the last few weeks, H1N1 swine flu was responsible for the deaths of 10 people in Hong Kong, and put 51 into intensive care units, some in critical condition.

The swine flu virus accounts for about 90% of all cases of flu, up from 40% last winter, when a seasonal flu variety predominated.

The researchers began working on the study by focusing on the 'cytokine effect,' a kind of immune system overdrive which kills the virus as well as the body.

They found that, when the cytokine effect accompanied a severe flu infection, the body dropped its defenses against certain types of bacteria, which worsened the flu even further.

The researchers said that immunoglobulin G2 was important in human defences against bacteria that caused secondary infection in patients with severe influenza.

An earlier study showed that severe flu patients benefitted from blood plasma that contained antibodies.

So, the researchers harvested immunoglobin G2 antibodies from the blood of patients who survived the viral infection.

To said that he and his colleagues believed that concentrated antibodies would be much more effective than ordinary convalescent plasma.

Seasonal flu can claim as many as half a million deaths per year.

H1N1 swine flu also infects young adults and children much more readily than does seasonal flu.

Last month, a 27-year old woman died in Hong Kong after contracting swine flu.

During the 2009 swine flu pandemic, 80 people in Hong Kong died of the virus.


Russia hard hit by this year's flu

1st February 2011

People in Moscow are experiencing the worst flu epidemic since 1998, and central Russia is faring even worse.

Health authorities in Moscow have recorded 93 cases of H1N1 swine flu, with no deaths there so far.

However, in the north-western region of Murmansk, swine flu has killed a two-year-old girl.

An 61-year old tourist from Australia, who came to Russia to get married, also died after becoming infected with swine flu several weeks ago.

Russian health authorities are certain that the man was contaminated while on an aeroplane by someone who had been infected in Hong Kong.

Swine flu also killed a Russian boy in the northern Kirovsk region.

Liudmilla Stepina, a local doctor, said that the child had never been inoculated against H1N1 swine flu.

Russia's chief sanitary doctor Gennady Onishchenko said health authorities were telling children not to play together, and to avoid gathering in large groups.

In order to stem the spread of the virus, about 1,500 schools have also been closed for approximately one week, putting 500,000 children back at home.

But closing schools was only partly a preventive measure.

An official with Moscow's health control service said that some classes were already missing half their students by the time schools were told to close.

Some classes were nearly empty, due to the number of children who suddenly became sick.

None Moscow school director said that a lot of his students were already sick, and that teaching three or four kids and then having everyone else catch up did not make sense.

Although the Russian health authorities do not plan to close kindergartens or schools for older students, parents are encouraged to keep their children quarantined.

Onishchenko said that schools should try to implement some sort of distance learning that could act as a substitute for being at school.

People are also complaining that Moscow lacks doctors, and that the city is not well-defended against flu outbreaks.

According to official figures, about 52,000 children in Moscow are currently fighting respiratory illnesses.

A further 30,000 adults are also fighting seasonal flu, swine flu, and other flu-like illnesses that affect the respiratory tract.



Leftover swine flu vaccine to be used

7th January 2011

Swine flu vaccines left over from last year’s pandemic are being made available to GPs across the UK.

England’s interim Chief Medical Officer Dame Sally Davies has announced that an extra 12 million doses of swine flu vaccine are being made available to meet a surge in demand.

The Pandemrix vaccine made by GlaxoSmithKline will be supplied to GPs who request it, though it only protects against swine flu, unlike the seasonal flu vaccine, which also protects against two other strains of the virus as well as swine flu.

Latest figures show that a further 11 people have died from flu, taking the total to 50.

However, cases of flu recorded by GPs this week dipped to 99 per 100,000 of the population after rising throughout December to 124 per 100,000 last week. Calls to NHS Direct also fell as experts suggest the peak of the outbreak was close.

Dame Sally said: “We may be nearing the peak. We have not got a crystal ball and we cannot be certain. The numbers in critical care are still rising but not on the same trajectory – it is much improved. It looks like the beginning of a plateau. Only next week will tell.”

Reports emerged from GPs in some parts of the country of a shortage of vaccines.

She acknowledged reports of a mismatch between vaccine supply and demand but added: “The data we have is there should be enough in the system. GPs who run out should get extra supplies from neighbouring practices of the primary care trust.”


Winter flu jab to include swine flu

20th September 2010

The swine flu vaccine is to be included in the winter flu jab, it has emerged.

It is the first time the two jabs have been combined and the move is seen as a bid to stop the virus returning.

However, the move also means people cannot refuse the swine flu jab without missing out on the winter flu injection as well.

The World Health Organisation has advised governments to keep issuing the vaccine during the post pandemic period to protect against a possible resurgence of the H1N1 strain and the Department for Health – which has more than 30 million swine flu vaccines left over – is implementing the advice immediately.

Figures show that about seven million people have the seasonal flu injection in the UK every year and last year 4.5 million had the swine flu inoculation.

Many did turn it down amid concerns that it had not been fully tested and European drug regulators conducted tests after reports of a possible link with narcolepsy.

But the Department of Health has said the Medicines and Healthcare Regulatory Authority had given the H1N1 inoculation the all-clear.

A spokeswoman said millions of vaccinations had been given out with no reported cases of narcolepsy in Britain.

“There is very little change to the seasonal flu vaccination which will still protect against a large number of flu viruses. It is simply that the swine flu vaccine has been added. People will be notified of this when they receive their invitation letters to get the jab so it won't be a surprise,” she added.


New Zealand still has swine flu

17th August 2010

People in New Zealand are still getting swine flu, according to local health authorities.

The World Health Organisation (WHO) recently issued a statement that the swine flu pandemic had finished in all parts of the world.

Health authorities in New Zealand described the level of swine flu in their country as being a significant enough to merit attention.

Darren Hunt, New Zealand deputy director of human health, said that, while some countries had seen the H1N1 virus decline or crowded out by other strains, such was not the case in New Zealand.

In New Zealand, four people are presumed dead from H1N1 swine flu this year.

Hunt said that some areas of New Zealand had had significant outbreaks of the disease, resulting in a lot of absences from school and work, and that the pandemic H1N1 swine flu strain was still the predominant strain.

WHO director general Margaret Chan said that the world no longer needed to be in phase six of the pandemic alert protocol.

She said that the WHO was moving on to the the post-pandemic period of the protocol.

The WHO's top flu official, Keiji Fukuda, said that the H1N1 swine flu virus was no longer capable of causing a pandemic.

Hunt said that hospitals in New Zealand were seeing many more people from areas where people weren't affected last year.

He said that, during the course of this year, over 300 people were confirmed to have been infected with H1N1 swine flu, including over 30 people admitted to intensive care.

Chan cautioned people against becoming complacent about swine flu, and said that even though hospitalisations and deaths had dropped, countries should keep an eye out for unusual patterns and for mutations of the virus.

She said that it was likely that the virus would continue to cause serious disease in younger age groups and in high-risk groups.


Governments 'bullied' into buying swine flu drugs

13th May 2010

A new report claims drug companies used bullying and scare tactics to force governments into buying swine flu drugs ahead of epidemic.

Namibia has no flu vaccine

20th April 2010

The 15% of Namibia's population that is immuno-compromised due to HIV infection may have an unusually high risk of getting the flu this winter, unless the country can get hold of some seasonal flu vaccine.

There is a shortage of seasonal flu vaccines this year because manufacturers devoted most of their capacity to producing large numbers of H1N1 swine flu vaccine.

As a result, some people in Namibia may have to do without the vaccine, leaving young children and older people in danger.

And people who have chronic diseases such as kidney failure, diabetes, heart disease, and HIV are also in danger, due to the fact that they are immuno-compromised.

A Namibian doctor said that the fact that the country was entirely out of seasonal flu vaccines was bad news, and presented a dangerous situation for people.

But the company Sanofi Pasteur, the producer of the seasonal flu vaccine Vaxigrip, said that the government of South Africa had made an unusually large order of seasonal flu vaccines, at almost five and a half times that of their regular tender amounts from previous years.

The South African government, which wants to make flu shots available for the general public, may have made its unusually large order as a way of stockpiling in advance of the Fifa World Cup.

In a leaflet distributed in Namibia, Sanofi Pasteur also said that the production cost of the seasonal flu vaccine was much higher than usual, due to the fact that the H1N1 strain had been added to the mixture, meaning that Vaxigrip would not be available on the market in 2010.

Willie van Wyk, a representative of the Namibian pharmaceutical distributor Geka Pharma, said that the vaccine shortage was due to the astounding production cost of adding swine flu vaccine to seasonal flu vaccine.

He said that people whose immune systems were low should stock up on immune boosters, and be careful during the winter.

A Namibian biologist said that people would have to get treated after they had already come down with the flu, and that the country had enough Tamiflu in reserve to treat flu sufferers.

A pharmacist on the health24.com website, a South African health information portal, said that some manufacturers had switched to producing the swine flu vaccine last year, and stopped producing the normal vaccine altogether.

Namibia is the second most sparsely populated country in the world, after Mongolia.


Swine flu twice as likely if had seasonal flu jab

15th April 2010

Study suggests people who have received the seasonal flu jab were more likely to develop swine flu.

Fear of third wave swine flu in US

31st March 2010

New worries about H1N1 in the south east, especially Georgia.

Swine flu drugs service closed

11th February 2010

A sharp decline in the number of H1N1 swine flu virus cases has seen the National Pandemic Flu Service, set up to dispense drugs to patients in England without the need to see doctors, close down.

However, if the situation changes the hotline and website could be restored in seven days and parents with young children are still being advised to have them immunised against the disease. At the height of the outbreak, 40,000 people a week received antivirals through the service but that is now below 5,000.


WHO defends pandemic warning

2nd February 2010

The World Health Organisation (WHO) has defended itself against accusations that its swine flu strategy was swayed by the interests of the pharmaceutical industry.

Council of Europe parliamentarian Wolfgang Wodarg accused national and international authorities of declaring a "false pandemic".

Wolfgang Wodarg, the former chief health officer of the Council of Europe, said that it seemed as if the WHO had been under the influence of the pharmaceutical industry, who reaped huge profits from selling vaccines to government stockpiles.

He said that billions of medications were bought by governments worldwide because of the way the WHO portrayed the disease.

Wodarg said that the WHO prepared itself for lying about swine flu by softening its definition of a pandemic about one year ago.

At that time, 'influenza pandemic' was officially redefined by the WHO to mean something that may or may not cause enormous morbidity and death.

Wodarg said that, when the claim was then made that swine flu was a pandemic, contracts that had already been signed with vaccine manufacturers were called into effect.

For its part, the WHO has defended its actions, even though the virus turned out to be relatively mild.

So-called 'flu chief' Keiji Fukuda, an assistant director-general for the WHO, said that although he and his colleagues are under no illusions that their response was the best possible one, there were no inappropriate ties between the WHO and the world's big pharmaceutical companies.

He said that the WHO's policy was to take preventive action, not to have vaccines made only when large numbers of people began to die.

Fukuda also disparaged media comparisons between seasonal flu deaths and H1N1 swine flu deaths.

The numbers used for seasonal flu were derived from mathematical equations and yearly averages.

Although swine flu deaths were actually lower than seasonal flu deaths, every swine flu death had to be confirmed using laboratory methods in order to count.

Fukuda also said that the WHO might yet again redefine the term 'influenza pandemic' following a review.

Peter Openshaw of the Centre for Respiratory Infection at Imperial College London, said that many experts feared that H1N1 swine flu might be as deadly as the 1918 Spanish flu pandemic.

He said that he believed that it would have been irresponsible not to order large numbers of vaccines, even if the disease did not turn out to be as deadly as first thought.

He said that scientists had no idea that many people would serve as asymptomatic carriers for the disease.

John Oxford, professor of virology at Barts and The London Hospital, said that swine flu was still mutating, and that it had already displaced 99% of the other flu viruses in the world.

He said that he thought it might cause more deaths next year, especially in elderly people.


Warning for people to get swine flu jab

25th January 2010

The Chief Medical Officer for England has released a bulletin which shows that the number of swine flu cases in England and Wales have decreased.

Over the Christmas period cases fell to the lowest levels since the start of the outbreak, but Sir Liam Donaldson urged people to be vaccinated. "Levels of pandemic flu are currently very low virtually concluding the second wave of the infection in this country. When the virus returns in the 2010 flu season those who develop complications or die will be doing so from a vaccine preventable disease. I strongly advise that those eligible for the vaccine who have not yet had it, get the jab and protect themselves," he said.


Swine flu briefings stopped

14th January 2010

In the latest signal that the swine flu crisis is easing, the weekly government briefings on the outbreak have been abandoned.

The number of new cases in England has fallen from 9,000 over a week in December to under 5,000 at the beginning of January prompting the Department of Health to scrap the briefings until there were any fresh developments. Since April 2009 there have been 360 swine flu deaths across the UK - 251 in England, 28 in Wales, 64 in Scotland and 17 in Northern Ireland.


Swine flu response to be reviewed by WHO

13th January 2010

The WHO is facing charges over exaggerated dangers of swine flu.

China's herbal swine flu treatment

22nd December 2009

There is a good Chinese herbal treatment for pandemic swine flu, according to a Chinese study.

Wang Chen, president of Chaoyang Hospital in Beijing, said that Jin Hua Qing Gan Fang (known as Jin Hua) was the most effective herbal treatment for swine flu.

He said that the cost-effective remedy shortened the duration of the fever associated with swine flu, as well as improving overall respiratory health.

Zhao Jing, the director of the Beijing municipal administration of Traditional Chinese Medicine, said that the Chinese municipal government gathered the most outstanding medical experts in the Chinese capital to develop the new remedy.

She said that more than 120 medical specialists participated in the study, which used mice and rabbits, and chose Jin Hua from among about 100 herbal anti-flu prescriptions.

Currently, the World Health Organisation (WHO) recommends Swiss-based Roche's antiviral Tamiflu to treat the pandemic flu.

Huang Luqi, vice president of the China Academy of Chinese Medical Sciences, said Jin Hua had been shown in tests on mice and rabbits to bring down a fever and help the body resist the influenza virus.

Local newspapers have hailed the remedy as the world's first traditional Chinese medicine remedy for swine flu. Officials said it had been picked out of 100 classical medicinal herbal prescriptions from Chinese medicine, a tradition dating back to the earliest Chinese emperors.

The medication had also been tested on 410 moderately sick human A/H1N1 patients, according to the Beijing Daily newspaper.

A total of 11 hospitals nationwide had conducted clinical trials on Jin Hua and given positive assessments, and Chaoyang Hospital has said it will file patents for the drug both domestically and internationally.

Zhao said the hospital hoped to be able to offer an alternative treatment for pandemic influenza.

China has seen around 108,000 A/H1N1 flu cases, including 442 deaths so far, according to official figures. WHO representatives in China welcomed Jin Hua's trial results, saying the remedy offered a low-cost alternative to Western flu treatments.


Under fives swine flu vaccines to begin

9th December 2009

Andy Burnham, the government's Health Secretary, has confirmed that children between the ages of six months and five years will start to receive the swine flu vaccine before the end of the year.

This age group has been targeted because there is more chance of a child being admitted to hospital if they become ill with the virus. Mr Burnham said: "It is disappointing that we have not been able to come to a national agreement with GPs to vaccinate children from six months to five years old. But we are now getting on with the job and asking local health trusts to put local plans in place so that vaccination of these children can begin seamlessly."


Ancient HIV link to cat AIDS found

9th December 2009

The transmission of the incurable HIV from animals to humans may have come about through a related virus which affects cats and which has been around for thousands or even millions of years, according to recent US research.

The finding has implications for scientists engaged in the creation of HIV vaccines or drugs that would fight HIV.

It also sheds light on the way in which other viruses, such as H5N1 bird flu, spread to humans from the animals in which they developed.

Study author Robert Bambara, of the University of Rochester Medical Center in New York, found a previously unnoticed stretch of viral RNA in HIV, that closely mimics part of the human RNA strand, he and colleagues devised a plausible explanation for why it is still there after millions of generations.

He said that the extra RNA helps the virus propagate itself inside the human body, and that its discovery may suggest new ways to shut down the action of the virus using drugs.

The strand is believed to have come from the feline ancestor of the modern HIV virus.

While HIV is believed to have jumped to humans directly from a virus found in chimpanzees, feline immunodeficiency virus (FIV), which infects cats, is thought to be the virus from which its chimpanzee ancestor originated.

The researchers said that HIV-like viruses have been identified in sheep, goats, horse, cattle and cats, but only the cat virus FIV seems to be a close relative of HIV and simian immunodeficiency virus (SIV).

Matthew Portnoy, of the National Institutes of Health, said that the study had broader implications beyond HIV research, and that it may impact responses to the current H1N1 flu pandemic.

He said there are many cases in epidemiology where a virus jumps between species and picks up DNA from each species in turn.


Swine flu claims healthy nine-year-old

3rd December 2009

Tests reveal a healthy nine-year-old girl from West Sussex died from pneumonia caused by swine flu.

Swine flu deaths triple in China

2nd December 2009

Official swine flu deaths in China have tripled in two weeks.

Swine flu claims five on Hajj

1st December 2009

Saudi Arabian health authorities reported that five people died of swine flu during the annual Hajj pilgrimage, the largest annual gathering in the world.

Some people had previously assumed that the Hajj would serve as a natural incubator for the spread of the virus, and experts are still worried that the pilgrims will not begin to develop swine flu until after they return to their home countries.

Abdullah bin Abdul-Aziz al-Rabeea, the Saudi minister of health, said that five pilgrims had died in the days leading up to and during the Hajj, while 73 cases of the virus had been recorded among the 2.5 million pilgrims who entered Saudi Arabia, only 10% of whom had been vaccinated against the virus.

He said that his ministry's safety precautions secured a successful Hajj for pilgrims from around the world.

The Saudi ministry of health, in a joint effort with American and international teams, made a concerted effort against swine flu both before and during the pilgrimage.

In addition to making sure public bathrooms near ritual sites were stocked with hand sanitizer, the teams tested pilgrims who were camped at Mina by giving them cheek swabs, and at Saudi airports using thermal cameras.

The health workers involved used the pilgrimage as a way of testing their flu treating capabilities.

They built a database in order to monitor the virus for possible mutations, as well as to educate themselves about how the H1N1 swine flu might behave at other large gatherings such as World Cup soccer matches.

Although health organisations around the world are worried that the Hajj pilgrims might develop swine flu after they return to their respective countries, Al-Rabeea said that many of the pilgrims were in the country longer than the usual incubation period without showing any symptoms of the virus.

However, he said that the pilgrims' home countries should continue to monitor their citizens for any symptoms of the disease when they return from the Hajj.

According to the governor of the Mecca region of Saudi Arabia, Prince Khaled Al-Faisal, a grand total of 2.5 million people made the Hajj pilgrimage this year, down by about half a million people from last year's numbers.

All but one of the people who died were over age 70. They were from India, Morocco, Pakistan, and Sudan.

A 17-year-old Nigerian girl also died of the disease while on pilgrimage.

Five-year-old dies of swine flu

24th November 2009

A five-year old boy who was suffering from swine flu has died at Milton Keynes Hospital.

His school, Emberton School in Buckinghamshire, has been closed. Dr Diane Gray, deputy director of public health for Milton Keynes, said: "My sympathies go out to his parents, family and friends. We don't yet know the cause of this boy's death. At this stage, there is no need to change normal behaviour – you should continue to go to school, work and any social activities."

Swine flu jab side effects investigated

23rd November 2009

Researchers in Scotland have started a study in which they aim to pinpoint any unusual side effects produced by the swine flu vaccine.

The study is being carried out by the Medicines Monitoring Unit (MEMO) at the University of Dundee, in association with the Drug Safety Research Unit (DSRU) in Southampton.

The new study will try to identify side effects which have not already been found by clinical trials. It will also look at people who have decided not to have the vaccine in order to draw comparisons between the two groups.

The team will start by looking at people aged over 16, but want to extend their research to include younger teenagers and children.

The research will monitor participants for a year after they have been given the vaccine in order to identify possible side effects.

Dr Isla Mackenzie, consultant physician with MEMO and lead doctor on the team, said: "Working with very large numbers of people is the only way to pick up extremely rare but important side effects of drugs or vaccines, such as those that only occur in 1 in 10,000 people."

"While the swine flu vaccine has been licensed and passed as safe to administer to the population, it is routine for new vaccines to continue to be monitored."


Under-5s to get swine flu jab

20th November 2009

The government has announced that children between the ages of six months and five will be the next group to receive a swine flu vaccination.

The Department of Health, which is working with the British Medical Association and NHS organisations to extend the vaccination programme, says the new group will be vaccinated as soon as doctors have completed the programme to offer the swine flu vaccine to priority groups.

These currently include people with underlying health conditions aged between six months and 65, household contacts of the immuno-compromised and pregnant women.

Frontline NHS workers have also been given the option of having the vaccine.

Royal College of GPs’ chair Professor Steve Field has urged parents to ensure their children get the vaccine as swine flu has been shown to affect young people worse than adults.

The highest GP consultation rates have been in the under-fives and children with swine flu are also more likely to be admitted to a critical care unit.

Professor Field said: “I know that some parents have concerns about immunisation but the swine flu vaccine is our most effective protection against the virus.

“This is obviously a personal choice but I would advise all parents whose children are offered the vaccine to take it up.”

However, the DH has not extended the programme to all school-age children, despite demands from the Conservatives to do so.

Shadow Health secretary Andrew Lansley welcomed the latest move for under-fives but added: “I believe that for children over five the government should offer it if parents request it.”


Deaths from swine flu spike in Canada

18th November 2009

A senior health official has said the swine flu death toll in Canada has reached 198.

Swine flu deaths in the US near 4,000

13th November 2009

Latest figures have shown that swine flu has killed nearly 4,000 people in the US.

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), which has devised a new counting method, said the new system is based on more precise figures provided by 10 states. It shows that 540 children are among the dead and reviews the previous estimated death toll from the H1N1 virus in the US of 672. About 22 million Americans have contracted the virus in six months with some 98,000 hospitalised.


Eskimos get swine flu vaccine

10th November 2009

An emergency medical rescue team has been flown out to a traditional Eskimo village on an island in the extreme western part of Alaska, to vaccinate the inhabitants against swine flu.

Medics arrived at the village of Diomede, home to just 130 people, on a helicopter borrowed from the Alaska Army National Guard.

David Head, who was part of the medical mission, said that Diomede was probably the most isolated place in the United States, and that his team thought it would be best to just fly out and vaccinate people.

The village of Diomede is located less than three miles from Big Diomede Island, which is part of Russian territory.

Passenger air service in and out of the village was halted four months ago, because the only usable helicopter broke down.

Patrick Omiak Sr., the village tribal council president, said that there was no way people could get out of the village.

Omiak, who is 73 years old, has not been ill, though many of the members of his community have.

Most residents of Little Diomede Island, which is only two square miles large, subsist on bowhead whale, walrus and seal.

They are Ingalikmiut, a branch of the Eskimo tribe.

Three people, including one sick child, have been flown to hospitals for treatment.


Swine flu vaccine update

5th November 2009

The DH has issued additional information to health practitioners regarding swine flu vaccine.

Swine flu deaths jump in one week

3rd November 2009

The number of swine flu deaths has leapt worldwide, according to the World Health Organisation (WHO).

The biggest rise in cases was in what the WHO calls the American region, where they have jumped by 636 to 4,175.

The WHO said that, in the temperate zone of the northern hemisphere, there has been an unusually early start to the winter influenza season in some countries.

During the same week, H1N1-related deaths in the Asia-Pacific region also rose to 1,070 deaths.

Because cases have begun to occur more frequently, Ukranian Prime Minister Yulia Tymoshenko has ordered that schools and cinemas be closed for three weeks.

Tymoshenko said that all school establishments in Ukraine will be put on three weeks of holiday, and that all public gatherings and concerts will be disallowed.

Because Ukraine has borders with four countries in the EU, the government also plans to limit the movements of its citizens.

Sixty seven Ukranians have died of flu so far this season, but the president of Ukraine maintains that only one death has been due to A(H1N1) swine flu.

The Ukrainian National Security Council has put the number of dead higher, at four.

Health Minister Vassyl Kniazevich said that Ukraine has entered into the zone of the swine flu epidemic.

Afghanistan has also declared that it will close schools for three weeks in order to stop the spread of swine flu.

China has also reported a rise in cases, and a student at Beijing university became the fourth person to die of H1N1 swine flu in China.

China's State Council, headed by Premier Wen Jiabao, said that the epidemic will continue to develop in the coming period, and the prevention and control situation is extremely grim.

The university student who died had been participating in military drills with other students.

He began to become feverish, was rushed to the hospital, and died the next day.

A further 28 of his classmates also tested positive for the virus, but all of them have ended up in stable condition.

Swine flu claims new mum

2nd November 2009

A 31-year-old new mother has died from swine flu days after giving birth at Salford Royal Hospital.

Susan Ford had a Caesarean section after she came into hospital with flu symptoms, but she died on 31 October. Dr Ruth Hussey, North West regional director of public health, said: "I would like to start by saying how sorry we are to hear about this death. We are collecting information to piece together a picture of how this virus is behaving and affecting people, which will inform how we respond to swine flu."

Hospitals feeling swine flu strain

2nd November 2009

Sir Liam Donaldson, England's chief medical officer, has told the BBC that hospitals are under "a lot of pressure" because of the swine flu pandemic.

Sir Liam appeared on Andrew Marr's television programme and said the vaccinations should help to stop swine flu from spreading.

There have been 137 deaths from the virus in the UK - 97 in England, 25 in Scotland, eight in Northern Ireland and seven in Wales.

Over half a million people have become ill with swine flu in the UK.

Sir Liam said the virus was increasing more slowly than they had originally predicted, although a small number of people developed "very serious illness".

"It's taking them into hospital and a small proportion are dying," he added.

He said that the use of symptom checkers and medication availability over the phone and internet had lessened the pressure on GPs.

However he explained: "On the hospital side the intensive care beds are under a lot of pressure."

"We have plans to expand them but that is a concern at the moment - the serious end of the spectrum, the hospitalised patients."

Sir Liam said the more serious cases of the virus would probably become more widespread in the coming months.

A vaccination programme began in October for the nine million people in the UK who are considered high risk, including pregnant women and hospital workers.


How long are children contagious with swine flu?

30th October 2009

A new study raises questions about how long children are contagious with swine flu.

Scouts help GPs deliver swine flu letters

30th October 2009

GPs in Bristol have turned to the local scout group to help get swine flu vaccination letters out during postal strike.

Swine flu cases rise

30th October 2009

The number of new cases of swine flu in England has recently increased from 53,000 to 78,000 while in Scotland they went up by more than 5,000 to nearly 20,000.

As the vaccination programme gets under way the figures are still short of the peak of the summer but there are signs patients are becoming sicker with hospitals under more pressure and health staff warned to brace themselves for a winter surge. The death toll in the UK has risen by nine and now stands at 137.


Flu jabs will continue despite post row

29th October 2009

If industrial action continues GPs will telephone patients inviting them for swine flu vaccine.

Flu risk from spitting on pitch

28th October 2009

Footballers have been warned by the Health Protection Agency that spitting on the pitch during games could raise the risk of spreading swine flu.

With both Blackburn Rovers and Bolton Wanderers players showing signs of the virus, the HPA has said that spitting "could increase the risk of passing on infections". The HPA has said spitting is unhygienic and unhealthy and that it wants players to act as role models for the public to follow by not spitting during games.


Don't go to work with flu symptoms

21st October 2009

91% of Americans say their co-workers should stay at home if they show flu-like symptoms.

Swine flu jabs start

21st October 2009

The first phase of vaccinations for swine flu has got under way in the UK.

The move, aimed at combating the spread of the condition, will see seriously ill hospital patients and health staff caring for them as the first to receive the injections.

Family doctors will call in people with health problems, damaged immune systems and pregnant women for the immunisation.

However, the government’s chief medical officer Sir Liam Donaldson has raised concerns over the impact of the postal strike with GPs sending out appointment letters in the post.

But he urged everyone in the priority groups to have the vaccine and added: “This is the first pandemic for which we have had a vaccine to protect people.”

He also stressed the importance of NHS and social care staff coming forward to have the swine flu vaccine.

“It will help prevent them and their families getting the virus from patients, it will stop them passing the virus on to their patients, it will potentially protect them from mutated strains and it will reduce the disruption to NHS services caused by people being absent due to illness,” said Sir Liam.

Some 108 people have died in the UK from swine flu and half a million have been infected.

Worldwide, 4,735 swine flu-related deaths worldwide have been recorded by the World Health Organisation.

The two vaccines which will be used are manufactured by GlaxoSmithKline and Baxter.

The Royal College of GPs said despite the scale of the programme, doctors were ready to immunise the priority groups.


Government response to swine flu completely wrong

20th October 2009

Swine flu is on the rise again.

Swine flu kills Scottish teen

16th October 2009

A 17-year-old pregnant teenager has died of swine flu in a Scottish hospital.

Hajj sparks swine flu fears

6th October 2009

Countries in the Arab world have begun to try to stop the spread of swine flu before the annual Hajj pilgrimage to Saudi Arabia.

Most Arabic-speaking countries are imposing various restrictions, mostly around who can travel.

Around two million foreigners are expected to come to Medina and Mecca during the Hajj, which will occur this year at the height of flu season.

Both pilgrimages will undoubtedly contribute to the spread of swine flu worldwide.

However, Saudi Arabia issued a statement saying that very few cases, all nonfatal, were reported in the country during Ramadan, when several million foreigners entered the country as part of the Umrah pilgrimage.

The Umrah is a pilgrimage like the Hajj which can be done at any time of the year, and which peaks during Ramadan.

The swine flu death total in Saudi Arabia is relatively low, with 29 people dead as a result of contracting the virus.

The Saudi Arabian health ministry is recommending that all Hajj pilgrims be vaccinated against both seasonal flu and swine flu, if possible.

Egypt, which is the most populous country in the Arab world, has lowered its numbers of expected pilgrims by up to 40% this year.

Egyptian Health Minister Hatem al-Jabali said recently that a decision could be made at any time to cancel the Hajj for Egyptians this year.

The country, which has had 900 cases of the disease so far, has also shut down its schools in order to contain the disease.

The country's 250,000 pigs were also slaughtered in a move that was criticised by the World Health Organisation (WHO).

The Egyptain government maintains that the culling of the country's pigs was a public hygiene measure.

Opponents of the move maintain that the pigs were eating a lot of the city's garbage, and that now that they are gone the city's waste collection problem is much worse.

The WHO said that the move was not necessary, because the pigs were not spreading swine flu to humans.

Tunisia has urged people not to go on the Hajj this year, and Morocco has required that anyone traveling to Saudi Arabia must be vaccinated.

Iraq and Iran both banned people from travelling to Saudi Arabia during Ramadan for the Umrah pilgrimage.

According to the WHO, swine flu has killed 3,917 people since its appearance in April.


Swine flu death confirmed

6th October 2009

A 24-year-old woman from Manchester has become the tenth patient to die from swine flu in the north-west of England.

North West Director of Public Health Dr Ruth Hussey stated that the woman's death had been due to the virus. She added: "If you look at the numbers of people who have had swine flu, the number of people who have died are small in comparison - and the number of normally healthy people who have died even smaller."

Vaccinations for swine flu to begin

2nd October 2009

England's Chief Medical Officer has confirmed that "high risk" members of the population will be given the swine flu vaccine at the end of October.

Sir Liam Donaldson said that if everything went well and "according to plan" then people would begin to be vaccinated by the end of the month.

Recent statistics have shown that the number of people infected with the virus is increasing.

The Health Protection Agency said there were 14,000 new cases of swine flu in England over the last week, in comparison to 9,000 for the previous seven days.

Sir Liam said there had been a "steady" increase, but cases had not doubled in a week, which was something they were worried about.

He said: "There is a steady rate of increase, but there is no sign of the explosive surge you can see in a pandemic. There is still time for that to happen."

Members of the population who are considered at high-risk, and are aged six months to 65, will be given the vaccine first.

Pregnant women, the elderly and people who have chronic lung disease, diabetes, asthma and heart disease will then be given the jab. 

286 patients have been given treatment in hospital for swine flu in the past seven days. The number of patients has increased from 218 from the previous week.

36 patients were receiving treatment in intensive care, in comparison to 25 in the week before.

Call to test pupils for swine flu

25th September 2009

Public health officials are seeking to take blood tests from school pupils in an attempt to track the spread of swine flu.

The move, which comes ahead of a predicted second wave of the epidemic, is aimed at helping health services more accurately calculate how many people have contracted the virus.

At this stage the proposal will be conducted on a voluntary basis and would involve pupils in only one secondary school.

Consultant epidemiologist Dr Jim McMenamin of Health Protection Scotland said blood testing would provide a better picture of the spread of swine flu.

Traditionally, health services have relied on swabs taken from people’s noses or throats to calculate the spread but these are often only carried out on people with symptoms.

Blood testing would allow health professionals to detect people who have developed swine flu but have only very mild or no symptoms and help health care planning for the winter period with a clearer calculation of how many people would be likely to get the condition.

Dr McMenamin told BBC Radio's Good Morning Scotland programme: "What we are proposing is, to get a better idea of the spread of this infection, that there is a limited opportunity for us to look at a very small number of the school population.

"We are proposing that at most one or two Scottish schools, and perhaps a similar number in other parts of the UK, would be asked to volunteer to take part in an investigation to see if H1N1 is spreading in their particular school."


Peru invest $100m for flu vaccine

23rd September 2009

Peru to invest $100m to acquire a batch of swine flu vaccines expected to immunise 30% of the population.

Advice on swine flu

18th September 2009

Q&A on swine flu.

iPhone app warns of swine flu

21st September 2009

A new application that can track outbreaks of swine flu within populations has been developed for Apple iPhone users.

The new application, which is called Outbreaks Near Me, lets people see a real-time picture of swine flu outbreaks in areas around where they live.

The application makes use of freely available data, including information from the US Centres for Disease control, people's blogs, and the microblogging service Twitter, among others.

All available information about swine flu outbreaks is collated and mapped by the website HealthMap, and users of the program are encouraged to add their own reports.

HealthMap was developed by John Brownstein of the Children’s Hospital Boston and Clark Freifeld of the Massachusetts Institute of Technology.

The website, which has been in operation since September 2006, monitors information sources in five languages: English, Chinese, Spanish, Russian, and French.

Brownstein said that the application is a new way to disseminate information to a device that everyone has on them all the time.

He said that he wants to encourage people to use basic prevention practices, such as good day-to-day hygiene and vaccinations.

However, the developers of the application say that they are not making any guarantees that it will limit the spread of swine flu.

Freifeld said that he thinks that having more information and being more informed is better than nothing, but that his team wants people to use their own good judgement to interpret the information they receive.

Hannah Gould at the US Centers for Disease Control said that she thinks that such advances make public health surveillance data more user-friendly.

Although Outbreaks Near Me is currently only available for the iPhone, Brownstein and Freifeld plan to release versions that will be compatible with other smartphone technology such as the open source Google Android.

Currently Outbreaks Near Me is only available for the iPhone. However, Brownstein and Freifeld plan to release Android and Blackberry versions in the near future.

Victim of swine flu speak of ordeal

16th September 2009

A pregnant Scottish woman talks about her swine flu ordeal for the first time.

Mental toughness for swine flu

14th September 2009

H1N1 swine flu-related stress may weigh upon people’s minds, but there are several steps we can take to reduce anxiety and improve their physical resistance to the disease, according to a specialist in the US.

Josh Klapow, a certified disaster mental health specialist, said that coping with the outbreak of a disease should involve clear thinking and balanced emotions.

He said that if people cannot function at a high level psychologically and cognitively during a flu outbreak, they will not make good decisions and will put themselves at further risk.

His tips include simple strategies hygienic measures, like covering coughs and sneezes, or washing with antibacterial soap.

His strategies not only empower those who use them with confidence, but keep the spread of the disease at bay.

Klapow said that swine flu is an enemy people cannot see, creating palpable fear in people’s minds, and that people should learn instead to stay calm, eat healthy, and get enough sleep.

He said that people should remind themselves that swine flu is a very mild illness, and though some tragic cases occur, most people are not developing serious disease to the point where they have to go to the hospital.

Sick-leave and time-off policies should be clear among people in the workplace.

Klapow said that employees should make sure employers and workers are not somehow 'reading between the lines' of sick-leave announcements.

People can also positively influence their health by taking simple actions that will help them to deal with disease related anxiety.

Klapow said that small personal actions do work in terms of protecting the public from getting sick, and help them transform worry into productive worry.

Making judgments based on limited or incorrect information also contributes to the spread of disease, because it is easy for people to panic in the wake of an outbreak.

Klapow said that if people get sick, they should remind themselves that they might only be sick for five to six days.

Swine flu claims eighth Scot

14th September 2009

A man aged 53 has died in Scotland from swine flu, becoming the eighth person to die from the disease in the country.

He had no other medical problems. Health Secretary Nicola Sturgeon said: "Our thoughts are with the patient's family and friends at this very sad time. Fortunately in the vast majority of H1N1 cases, most people have fairly mild symptoms and make a full recovery within a week."


Swine flu jab works after one dose

10th September 2009

Early trial results of swine flu vaccine show it may be effective after just one dose.

Flu warning after school break

10th September 2009

Schools have been issued with advice to help curb the spread of swine flu with an expected surge in cases in the months ahead.

Measures include adopting basic hygiene measures, such as regular hand washing, with children regarded as more likely to pass the virus on.

With ministers making it clear that schools would not be closed, several schools have already put measures in place with anti-bacterial gels on their premises and posters advising about the best way to wash hands.

Since schools closed in July for the summer break, swine flu cases have fallen from 100,000 new cases being reported a week to the latest figures which indicate there were just 4,500 new infections.

England's chief medical officer Sir Liam Donaldson said simple hygiene measures in schools could go a long way to combating the next wave of infections.

He said: “We saw with the first peak that we had during June and July very high rates among children, particularly young children.

“All the research evidence shows that if children are educated to cover their nose and mouth when they cough or sneeze and then wash their hands, it helps a great deal to slow the spread of infection.

"We have had a sizeable first peak, but we are expecting a bigger second peak during the normal flu season which is just about to start."

Schools secretary Ed Balls agreed said schools would remain open but parents should keep children at home and ring their GP or special helpline if they suspected swine flu.


GSK and Roche test swine flu drugs

8th September 2009

Roche is funding a study to test the efficacy of Tamiflu in combination with rival GlaxoSmithKline’s Relenza.

Critical care flu planning is a weak link

8th September 2009

The Conservative Party have said that replies to a Freedom of Information request have revealed problems in critical care plans for the swine flu pandemic.

80% of hospitals in England replied to the request and the resulting data showed that many intensive care units were "already under pressure" before the start of the pandemic.

The Tories said that 60% of units could be faced with a situation where demand for beds and care outstripped the amount available.

More than 3,600 critical care beds exist in England. Of this number 2,000 are defined as offering "level three" care, which means they can care for multiple organ failure (which can affect swine flu patients).

The Tories' data found that on average almost one third of level three beds were constantly occupied.

Shadow health secretary Andrew Lansley said: "If the second wave of swine flu occurs this could cause real problems. The government urgently needs to review its plans in order to help the NHS provide extra beds to deal with the pandemic and ease the pressure on intensive care units."

Ian Dalton, national director for NHS Flu Resilience, said: "We have asked the NHS to double capacity if needed and plans are well advanced in every region to do this - a proportionate response based on what we know about the virus." 

Swine flu more deadly to adolescents

4th September 2009

Adolescents are at higher risk of dying from the H1N1 virus than younger children.

China approves swine flu vaccine

8th September 2009

A vaccine that allegedly prevents swine flu after a single dose has been approved by the State Food and Drug Administration in China.

Plans to mass-produce the drug  are now under way, according to the maker of the vaccine, Sinovac.

The company's US-listed shares rose by leaps and bounds over the past few weeks, reaching a historic high of US$12.45 ahead of the announcement that it would be able to manufacture and sell its vaccine.

The company was the first among more than a dozen pharmaceutical giants to complete clinical trials of an H1N1 swine flu vaccine.

The Chinese government has said that it now plans to provide vaccines for 5% of the general population by the end of 2009.

Sinovac recently reported that the Chinese government made 3.3 million orders for the vaccine, to be delivered by early next week.

However, experts have said that two doses will be needed with the Chinese company's vaccine, and further data from the company is still needed to evaluate the jab.

Sinovac Chief Executive Yin Weidong said that, at the beginning of the year, his company forecast its sales would rise by 20%.

He said that, looking at things now, H1N1 had given them an opportunity to see sales rise by more than 20%.

Sinovac is not the only company developing a vaccine in China.

Hualan Biological, a company listed on the Shanghai share index, has already been given the go-ahead by a panel of experts for its vaccine.

Of the many companies worldwide that are currently engaged in developing their own, topping the list is GlaxoSmithKline, the world's second largest pharmaceutical company, which has received orders from governments all over the world currently totalling 291 million.

Sanofi-Aventis, the world's leading producer of flu shots, has received orders from France and the US.

CSL, the Australian group, has won large contracts from the Australian government and United States.

With children now returning back to school, health warnings have increased.

A high school in Xin'an county, in China's central province of Henan, was closed recently after 80 students were diagnosed with H1N1 swine flu.


Swine flu deaths in India top 100

2nd September 2009

Health officials say the number of people in India who have died of swine flu has passed 100.

'Severe' form of swine flu emerges

1st September 2009

A new form of swine flu that directly targets the lungs is severe in otherwise healthy young people, according to the World Health Organisation (WHO).

The disease is expensive to treat and requires hospitalisation in intensive care units.

In some countries, health agencies report that as many as 15% of people needing hospital treatment for swine flu in the first place, end up in intensive care.

The WHO said that, during the winter season in the southern hemisphere, several countries have viewed the need for intensive care as the greatest burden on health services.

It said that preparedness measures need to anticipate this increased demand on intensive care units, which could be overwhelmed by a sudden surge in the number of severe cases.

The WHO also recently reported that H1N1 swine flu has become endemic in Japan, as well as becoming stronger in the world’s tropical regions.

It said that clinicians from around the world are reporting a very severe form of disease in young and otherwise healthy people, rarely seen during seasonal influenza infections, causing severe respiratory failure.

Indigenous populations living in postcolonial societies, as well as ethnic minority groups, may also be at higher risk from the new, severe H1N1 swine flu.

The WHO said that, although the reasons are not fully understood, possible explanations why these groups may have four or five times more risk than other people include lower standards of living and poor overall health status, since there are higher rates of asthma, diabetes, hypertension, and other debilitating conditions in such populations.

It also said that countries in the northern hemisphere should prepare for a second wave of the disease, as well as countries with tropical climates, where the pandemic virus arrived later than elsewhere.
Seasonal flu usually infects 5-10% of any given population yearly, killing between 250,000 and 500,000 around the world, mainly causing problems for elderly people.

However, experts believe that up to one third of the world population could be infected by H1N1 swine flu this season.

Younger people are at a higher risk for the disease than with seasonal flu, specifically those with athsma, diabetes, immunosuppression, and cardiovascular or respiratory disease.

Only 1 in 10 flu cases are H1N1

21st August 2009

New evidence has emerged that only one in 10 people suspected of having swine flu actually have the bug.

Last month 24% of suspected cases tested were positive for H1N1, with the drop raising concerns that people were using swine flu as an excuse to call in sick to work.

And the latest sample testing has revealed that H1N1 was only present in 10% of cases.

With hundreds of thousands of cases over the summer, experts have been using random samples to check if the disease is changing in any way or whether resistant to Tamiflu is emerging.

The number of cases of swine flu were 11,000 last week, down from the peak of 110,000 in the week of 23 July. Calls and web visits to the National Pandemic Flu Service have also dropped.

Chief Medical Officer Sir Liam Donaldson said GP consultation rates about flu have now dropped below baseline levels, used to monitor seasonal flu activity, but this did not mean that swine flu has gone away.

Figures this week showed that at one stage 263 people were in hospital with swine flu and 30 of them in intensive care.

Sir Liam added: "This is very exceptional at this time of year, to have people with flu in hospital and in intensive care. Seeing a declining pattern doesn't mean it has completely gone away."

The total number of UK deaths is now 54 with health authorities on stand by for a second wave of swine flu and vaccines are currently in trials.


H1N1 in Saudi Arabia

11th August 2009

The World Health Organisation (WHO) has recently said that Saudi Arabia has the most confirmed pandemic H1N1 cases in the Eastern Mediterranean.

Four of the eight deaths due to H1N1 flu were in Saudi Arabia, and 595 of all cases were reported there.

Kuwait had the second-largest number, with 560 total cases and no deaths. Egypt has had 314 cases, putting it third after Kuwait. There has been one death there.

The other three deaths in the Eastern Mediterranean region came from Lebanon, Qatar, and Iraq.

With more than 2,000 cases of H1N1 and five deaths, Israel would lead the virus tally for the Eastern Mediterranean region were it classified there along with its neighbours.

However, the country falls under the WHO's Europe region.

Health ministers in Arabic speaking countries are not allowing people with chronic illnesses, the aged, or young children to make the Hajj pilgrimage to Saudi Arabia this November.

Abdullah al-Rabi, the Saudi Health Minister, said that children under 12 years of age and elderly people over 65 would not be granted visas for the Hajj this year.

All other applicants will need a proof of flu vaccination in order to acquire the visa.

Khalid al-Mirghalani, spokesman for the Saudi Ministry of Health, said that these requirements were approved by international experts, and that no one would be able to get a visa without fulfilling the new rules.

As of August 10th, Iran Air has reportedly suspended all flights bound for the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia.

Of Iran's 144 reported cases of H1N1 influenza, most had visited Saudi Arabia as pilgrims.

As of the beginning of August, nearly 170 countries had reported at least one incident of H1N1 influenza.

The WHO divides the world into six zones for the purpose of monitoring pandemics: Africa, the Eastern Mediterranean, Southeast Asia, Europe, the Americas, and the Western Pacific.

Big drop in swine flu cases

7th August 2009

Latest figures have revealed a significant fall in the number of new cases of H1N1 swine flu in England and Scotland.

Last week, there were an estimated 30,000 new cases in England, compared with 110,000 the previous week while in Scotland numbers fell from 1,500 to 1,050.

However, the number of deaths now stands at 40.

Wales saw new cases fall from 4,410 last week to 2,670, though there has been a rise in Northern Ireland from 10 cases to 83 new cases this week.

Overall, the Health Protection Agency said there was no sign the virus was mutating into a more lethal form, or developing resistance to drugs.

But the country is still on alert for a second wave of cases though England's Chief Medical Officer, Professor Sir Liam Donaldson, said it was very difficult to predict when it would hit though he anticipated it could be when the schools return after the summer break.

"We can't be complacent about this, we have to continue planning, we have to be ready for what happens in the autumn," he said.

Global flu experts are looking at southern hemisphere cases to try to predict what could happen in the UK.

Swine flu deaths have rises significantly in Argentina to 337 while Mexico could be seeing a second wave of cases.

The World Health Organization said the first swine flu vaccines are likely to be licensed for use in the general population in September. Several manufacturers have produced initial batches of a H1N1 vaccine and clinical trials are underway.


South Africa has its first H1N1 death

4th August 2009

A 22 year old man is the first confirmed death from swine flu in sub-Saharan Africa.

Swine flu sick note requests overwhelm GPs

30th July 2009

Local Medical Committees say that GPs are facing a deluge of demands for sick notes by patients who have swine flu.

Chris Locke, secretary of Nottinghamshire LMC, said: "Since the flu-line has opened, we’re grateful it has taken the pressure off GPs. But there seems to be no end for the demand for sick-notes. Their phones are full-up with people asking for sick-notes. There is obviously a real problem, particularly if the GP hadn’t seen them at all."

The view from the WHO on swine flu

28th July 2009

Margaret Chan, the WHO director-general, says swine flu 'has got to be the biggest pandemic ever in terms of the number of countries and people affected'.

Flu website crashes on first day

24th July 2009

The government's National Pandemic Flu Service site crashed on launch day after receiving 2,600 hits per second.

Visitors to the site were told the site was too busy and could not deal with requests, and asked them to try again later. Chief medical officer Sir Liam Donaldson told the BBC: “We have quadrupled capacity but we’re not expecting people to remain curious for very long.”

Swine flu care warning

24th July 2009

A study has said that cases of the swine flu virus could prove too much for intensive care units run by the health service in England.

The study, published in the Anaesthesia journal, said the need for intensive care beds could exceed availability by up to 130%.

It estimated that units on the South East coast and in the South West, Midlands and East of England would be the worst affected.

The warning came as the World Health Organization predicted that there may be two billion cases of swine flu worldwide.

On Thursday a pregnant woman with swine flu, Sharon Pentleton, was flown from Scotland to Sweden to have a procedure known as extra corporeal membrane oxygenation (ECMO) because there were no beds available in the UK.

Scottish health secretary Nicola Sturgeon said doctors were happy with how Ms Pentleton had travelled and she said the procedure "might and hopefully will save her life".

A spokesman for the Department of Health said all health service organisations were prepared for the pandemic.

"As part of our preparations, guidance has been issued which contains information for primary and secondary care services in the UK on managing surge capacity and the prioritisation of services and patients during an influenza widespread outbreak," he said.

GSK expects to triple flu treatment output

23rd July 2009

GSK expects to triple capacity of its flu treatment Relenza.

Human flu jab trials begin

23rd July 2009

Vaccine trials have begun in Australia.

National Flu Service launched

23rd July 2009

The government has confirmed that the number of new cases of the swine flu virus in England is estimated at 100,000.

It has launched the National Flu Service, which allows people to obtain antiviral medication over the internet or by telephone without needing to visit the GP.

The site received 9.3 million hits during the first couple of hours it was live and it was reported it had crashed due to the demand.

The government also released information about the number of deaths caused by the virus. The most recent figures revealed there were 26 deaths - the same figure as the previous week - although the government has changed how it categorises deaths.

After investigating some of the deaths in last week's tally that were initially thought to be caused by the virus, the government removed them from the list when swine flu was found not to be the cause of death.

Chief Medical Officer Sir Liam Donaldson also stated that there could be "a little bit of possible good news".

Although the number of cases rose from 55,000 to an estimated 100,000, the amount of people admitted to hospital has not increased correspondingly.

Around 840 patients are in hospital - 63 of whom are in intensive care - in comparison to 652 last week.

Sir Liam added: "There is no evidence to suggest it is becoming more virulent. Most people with no underlying conditions will get over the flu perfectly well."


How the swine flu numbers add up

23rd July 2009

How have the experts calculated the number of swine flu cases?

Septic shock killed flu girl

22nd July 2009

It has been announced that the six-year-old girl with swine flu died of septic shock.

Pregnancy and swine flu, questions answered

22nd July 2009

Experts have warned of the possibly harmful effects of the swine flu virus on pregnant women and their babies.

A woman aged 39 who was infected with the virus died after she gave birth and her baby is in intensive care.

The BBC asked Maureen Baker, Head of Pandemic Planning at the Royal College of General Practitioners to answer some readers' queries about pregnancy and swine flu.


What are the risks of catching the virus in early pregnancy?

Dr Baker: Catching the virus would pose a low risk so you should not be too worried.

What is the best advice for lessening the danger of catching the virus? If signs of swine flu emerge what should we do? My wife is expecting her second baby in seven days and we have a 23 month old son.

Dr Baker: Make sure to wash hands thoroughly and do not interact with people who are suffering from flu or have signs of the virus. If one of your family shows signs of swine flu get in touch with your GP in order to find antiviral medication.

What is the chance of miscarriage if I get swine flu?

Dr Baker: There is a somewhat heightened danger of miscarriage in pregnant women who catch the virus but it is still a low risk.

I am over 40 weeks pregnant at the moment, should I ask to be induced early to reduce the risks?

Dr Baker: No. You should allow labour to begin in a natural way.

I have a child aged three and am 29 weeks pregnant. Should I remove her from nursery until a vaccine is made available?

Dr Baker: No that step is not needed.

I am over six months pregnant and have a holiday scheduled - can I still go? Does travelling by plane add to the danger of getting the virus?

Dr Baker: You should not cancel your holiday. I do not think that travelling by plane adds to the risk of getting swine flu. You might want to wash your hands frequently while you travel.

I work in a pharmacy and am seven months pregnant. The news that a mother has died has made me very worried. People have come into the pharmacy requesting Tamiflu medication. Should I stay away from work?

Dr Baker: Please do not worry - it is not healthy for you or your child. You could ask your employer if you can carry out tasks which minimise your exposure to the public. If you can't do this, then wash your hands regularly and keep one metre from your customers. Even if you are infected, the danger of developing problems is still very small.

A person I work with had very bad flu around a fortnight ago. I am five months pregnant - should I take any precautionary medicine?

Dr Baker: No.

Does the current pneumococcal vaccine provided to infants protect them from swine flu complications or does the virus produce a "different strain"? Could the vaccine be offered to pregnant women?

Dr Baker: "We are not aware that many chest infections that are complications of this form of flu are caused by pneumococcus. Nor do I believe there are currently any plans to extend the pneumococcal vaccination programme."

I work as a nursing sister for respiratory patients and am pregnant. What would you advise?

Dr Baker: "In general pregnant HCWs should be directed to work with non-flu patients if this is possible and unlikely to result in poorer services for patients."

I have diabetes and am 34 weeks pregnant - am I "high risk"? Should I not take public transport and stay away from shopping malls?

Dr Baker: Pregnant women have been told not to stay away from tubes and buses but they may want to think about keeping away from crowded places where they "may have no control over the people they come into close contact with".

I was thinking about trying for another baby - should I put this off because of the swine flu dangers? 

Dr Baker: I don't think you need to delay trying for a child.

Swine flu has infected colleagues in my office and I share desks with different people. I am 31 weeks pregnant. Should I stay at work?

Dr Baker: You don't need to stay away from work. Why not make certain that all work spaces are cleaned well?

My wife is a teacher and is 23 weeks pregnant. Dow she need to stay away when the school term begins again in September?

Dr Baker: No, this is not necessary.

I have been infected with a cold and am 26 weeks pregnant. Does this raise the danger of catching the virus and should I stay at home?

Dr Baker: A cold does not increase the risk and you can carry on working if you are well.

I am in contact with the public because of my job and am six months pregnant. Should I tell my company that I want a "back-office" position until I take maternity leave?

Dr Baker: See if your company will carry out a "risk assessment" and if you could take on a role which does not have public contact.

NHS Direct appears to say that people at high risk need to take antiviral medication as quickly as they can. However my midwife and NHS UK say I should not do this until I show sigs of the disease. What should I do?

Dr Baker: It is not necessary to take antiviral medication unless you show signs of the virus.

My family of three have been confirmed as having the virus. We had to arrange for someone to go seven miles to the supply of Tamiflu and then travel back. Why don't GP surgeries stock it? Is the health service doing this "on the cheap"?

Dr Baker: "No, it's almost certainly more expensive to run a national flu service, provide antivirals at no charge and staff antiviral distribution centres. These arrangements are designed to take pressure off GP practices so the practices can continue to look after people who are ill with other acute medical problems as well as dealing with any patients who develop flu."

Beijing swine flu students released

21st July 2009

Authorities in Beijing have released group of schoolchildren from the United Kingdom held under quarantine after some of their group caught swine flu.

The first batch of 20 pupils and teachers were allowed to leave the Yanxiang Hotel where they were held.

Chinese officials wanted to observe them for signs of the disease after some of the group, which was on a tour of China, fell ill with the H1N1 virus.

They will continue their trip from another hotel in Beijing.

Teachers and pupils alike were glad to be free of the restrictions, and said they would continue their trip as planned.

A further 80 pupils and teachers from British schools are still in the Yanxiang Hotel, together with some from the United States.

Chinese health officials said nine British pupils had so far been diagnosed with swine flu in China, although none of them is believed to be seriously ill.

Nine teenagers from the US are also receiving hospital treatment for swine flu.

Hundreds of foreign visitors to China have been quarantined by health authorities after showing symptoms of swine flu.

The British group was on a two-week cultural exchange trip organised by the Specialist Schools and Academies Trust, the Department for Children, Schools and Families, the British Council and Chinese organisation Hanban.

While H1N1 swine flu mounts a more sustained attack on the respiratory system than the standard seasonal virus, making it more likely to cause pneumonia, the virus still mostly produces mild symptoms in the majority of cases.

Swine flu is thought to have infected more than a million people worldwide, and to have killed at least 500.

Exactly how dangerous is swine flu?

21st July 2009

John Edmunds, a professor at the London School of Hygiene and Tropical Medicine, has said it is too early to predict how many people might fall ill or die.

Close schools to curb swine flu

21st July 2009

MPs have been invited to think about whether shutting down schools could help to lessen the number of swine flu cases in the UK.

Scientists at Imperial College London said there were both benefits and disadvantages to school closures.

They said it might reduce the spread of cases and create a longer stretch of time in which to produce a vaccine.

They added that it would also be very disruptive and would not decrease the total number of swine flu cases.

The researchers pointed out that "up to a third" of people in healthcare positions had children who they would need to look after if schools were shut down.  This would affect how the health service was able to deal with swine flu cases.

They added that closing schools for three months could erase 6% of the GDP.

Lead researcher Professor Neil Ferguson said: "The [swine flu] pandemic could become more severe, and so the current cautious approach of not necessarily recommending school closure in Europe and North America might need reappraisal in the autumn."

Ed Balls, Secretary of State for Children, Schools and Families, said: "Now that the virus is established in the community, expert advice is that there is no longer a strong case for closing schools to contain the spread of infection."

He added that the Health Protection Agency's advice was that schools where swine flu cases had been confirmed were to remain open "unless specifically advised otherwise".

No need to panic even if you catch H1N1

20th July 2009

Even with 55,000 more swine flu cases in one week The Telegraph thinks the government's advice is sound.

UK students confimed with swine flu in China

20th July 2009

Four more UK and US students have been quarantined in Beijing with the H1N1 virus.

Swine flu hotline to ease pressure on GPs

17th July 2009

England's Chief Medical Officer Sir Liam Donaldson has confirmed that a swine flu phone line will be available soon to lessen the demands on GP practices.

The helpline is to be launched soon and will allow staff to decide which patients need medication by using a clinical algorithm. The Health Protection Agency said 29 people had now died from the virus and the number of cases of swine flu stood at 55,000.

Swine flu and infectious attitudes

16th July 2009

Political writer Michael White comments on swine flu and the performance of Handy Andy Burnham.

There comes a time when even a “keep calm” column has to acknowledge that Britain seems to be edging towards a swine flu pandemic.

There has already been panic in Fleet Street and ministerial warnings against such things as “flu parties” so the young can get it over with.

I was reading Hilary Mantel’s historic novel Wolf Hall where a key character’s child dies of the plague on a visit to London.

In the 16th century, as in the 20th century, the young were most vulnerable.

Generally, politicians have been more sensible than the media over swine flu with Whitehall cross with some reports.

The prediction of 100,000 cases a day by late August has come with a policy shift from containment to a treatment-based strategy.

Handy Andy Burnham has been giving regular updates while for the Opposition, swine flu has a delicate balance of holding government to account while not scoring cheap political points.

A sensitive point has been the friction between the four UK health administrations but I believe the big test will come if GPs, primary care trusts and hospitals are overwhelmed by a combination of patients (2,000 hospitalisations a day are projected) and staff sickness.

Mr Burnham has issued guidance on when to start cancelling elective surgery locally.

In China, both imperial and communist, emperors are judged on how they deal with flood and earthquake.

My impression is that Emperor Burnham is doing OK.


Calls to GPs about swine flu jump 50%

16th July 2009

More than 40,000 people a week are now contacting their doctors over fears they have swine flu.

The figure marks a 46% increase on the previous week as the Royal College of GPs noted that more than 73 people per 100,000 reported flu-like illness in one week.

The five to 14 age group was worst affected and had the highest rate, at 159.57 per 100,000. Children aged up to four were the second highest rate at 114.12 per 100,000, followed by people aged 15 to 44, those aged 45 to 64 and then the 65 and over age group.

Worst affected areas are central England with cases at 94 per 100,000 while the north has seen a significant rise up from 6.6 to 37.16 per 100,000 in just a week.

The figures are based on a sample of 84 GP surgeries across the UK.

However, while cases are still high in the capital, London did see a small drop in swine flu.

The number of UK deaths linked to the swine flu virus currently stands at 17.

The weekly report from the RCGP's monitoring system said: "National incidence of influenza-like illness increased for all regions and is now evident in all age groups."

GPs have also raised concerns about aspects of the government’s handling of the pandemic and experts are concerned the H1N1 swine flu strain is affecting younger people.

A swine flu vaccine is due to be available at the end of August with a priority list of those most in need being drawn up.


Poorer countries 'need flu vaccine'

13th July 2009

Developing countries are in need of an extensive vaccination programme against seasonal influenza, according to international influenza experts.

If pharmaceutical companies boost production to include poorer countries, this will also have the effect of boosting demand, so that there is plenty of manufacturing capacity in the event of a pandemic.

Influenza scientists and politicians held a meeting in Italy last week to discuss the current H1N1 swine flu pandemic.

They heard that many governments in developing countries remain unconvinced that flu is as important a threat to public health as some of the other challenges they face, like malaria, HIV and tuberculosis.

But Abdullah Brooks of the International Centre for Diarrhoeal Disease Research in Bangladesh warned that a third of pneumonia deaths worldwide are caused by influenza viruses.

Two million children under five years of age die every year worldwide from pneumonia, according to the United Nations children's agency UNICEF.

The meeting in Siena, Italy, was called to allow scientists and healthcare policy-makers to assess the gaps in their knowledge about the current pandemic.

If vaccine programmes in poorer countries were to receive a boost, developed countries, the UN and health charities would be likely to foot the bill.

The meeting also heard calls for developing nation governments to carry out a full assessment of the full impact of influenza infections in children, and of the potential effects of a vaccination programme.

Besides the public health benefits of vaccination programmes, such a move could also make it easier for pharmaceutical companies to respond to global changes in demand for vaccine.

Novartis vaccine research chief Rino Rappuoli told the meeting that his company had been planning to close some vaccine manufacturing plants because they were running at a loss.

Vaccination programmes in poorer countries could boost demand, keeping plants open which could be used to boost supplies in the event of a pandemic strain of influenza.


Further tests on swine flu victims

14th July 2009

Health secretary Andy Burnham has said parents should keep their worries about swine flu "in perspective" following the death of a child.

Post-mortem tests are being carried out to ascertain if six-year-old Chloe Buckley and GP Dr Michael Day had other health issues which could have been a contributing factor in their deaths.

The total number of deaths in the UK from the virus now stands at 17.

Mr Burnham told GMTV: "There have been lots of children already having the condition but making a very quick and full recovery. We do have to keep it in perspective."

Tests on Dr Day confirmed that he was infected with the swine flu virus.

Chris Spencer, director of education at Hillingdon Borough Council, said that people were shocked at Chloe's death "who until a few days ago in all our minds was a child that was perfectly healthy".

Dr Chris Smith, a virologist at Cambridge University, said worldwide and UK data showed that the death rate for swine flu was 0.5 or 0.4%.

"In other words about one person in every 200 who contracts this virus may die. And that's unfortunately inevitable. We don't know why this happens." 

The government has placed orders for a vaccine against the disease in quantities to cover the UK population, with the first batch due to arrive soon.


Airways hit hard by swine flu

14th July 2009

Researchers in the United States have found that swine flu mounts a more sustained attack on the respiratory system than the standard seasonal virus.

Research in animals carried out at the University of Wisconsin showed swine flu multiplies in greater numbers across the respiratory system, causing more damage than seasonal flu.

The H1N1 virus penetrates deeper into the respiratory tissues than seasonal flu, which stays in the head.

This characteristic makes it more likely to cause pneumonia.

The study, published in the journal Nature, also suggests that swine flu may mimic the flu virus which caused the great pandemic of 1968, in which millions died.

That virus, known as H3N2, also caused worse damage to the respiratory system than seasonal viruses.

As well as tests on ferrets, monkeys and mice, researchers analysed samples taken from people who survived the 1918 pandemic.

These people seemed to have acquired immune protection from this pandemic, adding weight to the notion that there are similarities.

Swine flu, however, still mostly produces mild symptoms in the majority of cases, the researchers said.

The virus is still sensitive to anti-viral drugs.

Influenza experts said the study provided a complete analysis of swine flu that they had been waiting for.

The University of Reading's professor Ian Jones, said it showed that the new virus was more serious than seasonal H1N1 but that most patients would recover.

He said the new data would he helpful in severe cases which required hospitalisation.

Imperial College virologist Wendy Barclay said the people should remember that typical circulating human strains of H1N1 have been associated with rather mild illness in recent years.

She said the swine flu virus might only be mimicking the 1918 virus in animals, not people.

Swine flu is thought to have infected more than a million people worldwide, and to have killed at least 500.

Swine flu deaths double in UK

10th July 2009

Officials have said the number of Britons who have died after contracting swine flu has almost doubled in two days.

Nine-year-old latest victim of swine flu

6th July 2009

NHS London has confirmed that a girl of nine years of age has become the fifth death in the UK attributed to swine flu.

The girl, from south London, was described as having "serious underlying health problems" and died "over the weekend" according to a spokesman.

A man from south London who also had health problems and was 19 years old died last week from the disease.

The capital comes second in the list of the most badly affected areas of the UK, with over 1,900 cases of swine flu.

The NHS London spokesman said: "Once again we wish to take this opportunity to remind the public that for most people this is a minor illness and that they should start to feel better after a few days without needing to go to their GP or A&E."

"However, some people may be more susceptible to the virus. If you have flu-like symptoms it's important that you talk to your doctor if you are pregnant, very young, over-65 or have long-term conditions such as asthma or diabetes."

Chief Medical Office Sir Liam Donaldson said last week that the UK was no longer trying to contain the virus and was instead in the "treatment phase".

Experts have said that the amount of cases of swine flu in the UK could increase to over 100,000 by the end of August.

'Unclear advice' for GPs on swine flu

6th July 2009

A poll carried out by the doctors.net.uk website has found only 9% of doctors think that have been given "clear and concise" guidance about swine flu.

44% said they were getting too much information. Doctors.net.uk medical director Tim Ringrose said: “Doctors have been battling to make sense of the stream of information from different sources. They are now looking for clear, concise information to help them get prepared and to enable them to answer questions from the public.”

Swine flu 'unstoppable' says WHO

3rd July 2009

The World Health Organisation (WHO) says the swine flu pandemic is now 'unstoppable'.

Speaking at a health ministers' summit in Cancun, Mexico, WHO Director-General Margaret Chan said the world was now in the "early days" of the 2009 influenza pandemic caused by the H1N1 virus.

"As we see today, with well over 100 countries reporting cases, once a fully fit pandemic virus emerges, its further international spread is unstoppable," Chan said.

She said the summit had been deliberately held in Mexico to show that worldwide travel restrictions to Mexico, or indeed any other country, would serve "no purpose".

"They do not protect the public. They do not contain the outbreak. And they do not prevent further international spread," Chan said.

Chan said the spread of an influenza pandemic was the "epidemiological equivalent of a tidal wave", because they hit a given area and spread through a population that was either largely or entirely susceptible to infection.

She said a peak of cases was inevitable, especially in densely populated areas of the world, followed by a sharp decline.

She said aggressive control measures could make the peak in infections somewhat less sharp, but only for a while.

"Mexico, and especially Mexico City, experienced this tidal wave of cases, and its peak, back in April," Chan said.

"Other countries, where the virus was introduced later, are experiencing it now. More countries will see this pattern in the months to come."

Chan said the worst for Mexico should now be over, at least during the first wave of the pandemic, saying that the first country to experience a pandemic would not know what hit it in the first days of the outbreak.

She praised the Mexican government for giving the world "an early warning" of what was to come, with rapid and transparent reporting of cases and aggressive control measures.

Chan said the WHO had good reason to believe that this pandemic would be of "moderate severity," but that the first biggest challenge would be faced during the current winter season in the Southern Hemisphere.

She added that most cases of severe and fatal infection continued to occur in people with underlying medical conditions, and that data showed pregnant women were at increased risk of complications.

The H1N1 virus has entered more than 100 countries, infected more than 70,000 people and killed more than 300 worldwide in the two months since it emerged in Mexico.

The UK alone is predicting around 100,000 cases a day by the end of the summer.

Government's new approach to swine flu

2nd July 2009

The government has switched its approach to the rising numbers of swine flu cases.

With containing the virus no longer regarded as an option, the emergency response is now moving to a treatment phase amid concerns that there could soon be as many as 100,000 new cases a day.

The move, aimed at relieving pressure on the health service, will mean that anti-flu drugs will no longer be given to the close contacts of those infected nor will lab testing be done to confirm cases.

The government said the new approach, which comes into effect immediately, is not a sign that the virus is becoming more deadly.

It will mean people with uncomplicated symptoms should contact the NHS by phone and if they are believed to be suffering from swine flu a family member can take a voucher to a drug collection point and take the drugs to them at home.

Health secretary Andy Burnham said: "The national focus will be on treating the increasing numbers affected by swine flu.

"Cases are doubling every week and on this trend we could see over 100,000 cases per day by the end of August."

He said efforts during the containment phase had provided “precious time” to learn more about the virus.

Scottish Health Secretary Nicola Sturgeon announced similar changes to the flu strategy at a simultaneous briefing in Edinburgh.

There have been more than 7,000 confirmed cases in the UK since the first outbreak in April. Three people have died, but all had underlying health problems.


Swine flu parties are not a good idea

30th June 2009

Doctors say throwing 'swine flu parties' in an attempt to get immunity against the virus is not a good idea.

Swine flu showing drug resistance

30th June 2009

The H1N1 swine flu virus has been shown to have developed resistance to a common antiviral drug.

The virus was shown to have become resistant to Roche's Tamiflu, also known as oseltamivir.
Tamiflu is the main weapon in the public health arsenal against the swine influenza pandemic, which was decalared earlier this month by the World Health Organisation (WHO).

Roche has now confirmed that a patient in Denmark with H1N1 influenza showed resistance to Tamiflu.

The company said 'A' type seasonal influenza had also been known to do the same, and therefore the result was not very surprising.

The United Kingdom has seen three deaths so far from swine flu. The deaths however included a six-year-old girl with underlying health problems, and hospital officials said swine flu was known known for certain to be the cause of her death.

The United States says it estimates that the virus has now infected at least a million Americans.

In the UK, authorities have said the number of swine flu cases had spiked recently, with more than 1,000 new cases since last week, making nearly 6,000 cases nationwide.

So far, the virus has yet to be reported to be developing resistance to Tamiflu in Britain.

Tamiflu can be effective against all forms of influenza if it is taken at the outset. It produces milder symptoms than would be experienced without it, and makes the patient less infectious to others.

The Danish case was the first to be reported of Tamiflu resistance in H1N1, but Roche said there was no sign that the resistant strain was circulating within the community.

Last year's seasonal flu developed a Tamiflu-resistant strain and began circulating widely.

If this happened with swine flu, it could render Tamiflu ineffective in fighting the current pandemic.

One other drug, GlaxoSmithKline's Relenza, also known as zanamivir, has also shown to be effective against swine flu.

Governments around the world began stockpiling antiviral drugs in preparation for a pandemic. The British authorities say they currently have enough to treat half the population.

Young girl dies from swine flu

29th June 2009

NHS West Midlands has confirmed that a young female patient, thought to be six years of age, has died at Birmingham Children's Hospital.

The girl was suffering from other serious health problems and died on Friday evening. The total number of cases of swine flu stands at 5,937 in the UK. Health Secretary Andy Burnham said: "Tragic as today's death is, I would like to emphasise that, across England, the majority of swine flu cases have not been severe."

Elderly man with swine flu has died

29th June 2009

The Scottish government has confirmed that a 73-year old man has died from swine flu at the Royal Alexandra Hospital in Paisley.

Scottish Health Secretary Nicola Sturgeon said: "Our thoughts are with the family and friends of the patient at this tragic and very sad time. The family have asked for the patient's identity to be kept private. Although it is concerning that the patient had swine flu, we are aware that the patient had very serious underlying health issues."

One million US swine flu cases

29th June 2009

US health officials estimate that at least one million Americans have been infected with swine flu.

WHO figures report nearly 60,000 swine flu cases

26th June 2009

New figures released by the WHO show swine flu has infected 59,814 people in 113 countries worldwide and killed 263 people.

Pig influenza 'barely monitored'

26th June 2009

The 2009 pandemic influenza virus, H1N1, may not be under sufficient surveillance in pigs to prevent new and more deadly strains emerging, public health experts have warned.

The lack of surveillance means the virus is more likely to continue to circulate between humans and pigs, making further mutations more likely.

Animal health organisations are cautious about too keen a focus on pigs, fearing an overreaction including mass culling of pigs, as happened in Egypt. Trade bans on pigs and pork are another outcome governments would like to avoid.

Bernard Vallat, director-general of the World Organisation for Animal Health (OIE) made a statement just minutes after the World Health Organisation (WHO) declared swine flu a pandemic on June 11.

He said the role of animals had not so far been demonstrated in either the spread or development of the virus.

"So far the role of animals has not been demonstrated in the virus's epidemiology or spread," he asserted.

Others say, however, that H1N1 may in fact be the product of minimal flu surveillance in pigs in the years prior to the emergence of the pandemic.

Hong Kong University flu geneticist Gavin Smith and colleagues said in a recent report that lack of systematic swine surveillance allowed for the undetected persistence and evolution of this potentially pandemic strain for many years.

Smith says pigs have played an "obvious" role in the epidemiology of swine flu. He also says it is possible that H1N1 has been circulating between pigs and humans for many years.

So far, only pigs in Alberta, Canada, have been found to host the pandemic strain of the virus. No-one knows how the herd became infected.

UK laboratories have demonstrated that pigs can easily become infected with the virus, and readily transmit it between themselves and shed it into the environment.

Jimmy Smith, head of livestock affairs at the World Bank in Washington DC, and a member of the organsation's flu task force said it was highly likely that more pigs were infected in more places than just the one Canadian pig farm.

And OIE-FAO animal flu (OFFLU) expert Steve Edwards says that just because there is no evidence to support the role of pigs in swine flu, does not mean that they do not play a role.

Pigs have been far less the focus of laboratory networks like Edwards', however, which have tended to focus on surveillance of influenza viruses in poultry and wild birds, with pigs low on the agenda.

Fears over the next pandemic influenza strain have traditionally focused around the avian H5N1 flu virus, which leads to serious disease in poultry and causes huge economic losses.

Any outbreaks must be reported in poultry or other birds, but similar requirements are not in place for pigs. States may now voluntarily report influenza in pigs, OIE says.

OFFLU says it has had only a limited response to suggestions that countries share information on swine flu, which is usually seen as a farming problems, and sequence any recent samples for genetic analysis.


Board game secret weapon in swine flu fight

25th June 2009

The DH has launched a board game to help GP practices prepare for an outbreak of swine flu.

NHS contingency plans for staff

24th June 2009

West Midlands NHS has put in place contingency plans in anticipation of staff being absent from work with swine flu.

The region accounts for more than half of all swine flu cases in England, with 1,154 cases being reported. While the authority recognises that absenteeism would put the service under pressure, plans were in place to tackle that, it said. Meanwhile, Heartlands Hospital in Birmingham and Good Hope Hospital in Sutton Coldfield have set up triage areas to cope with complaints of symptoms.


UK swine flu approaches 3,000 cases

24th June 2009

Cases of swine flu in the UK are nearing the 3,000 mark.

Another 149 cases of swine flu have been confirmed, bringing the total to 2,944, including 686 in Scotland. Of the latest cases, more than 100 were in England, including a baby who is at a hospital on Teeside, and 40 further cases north of the border. About 30,000 cases of swine flu have so far been detected in 74 countries, and more than 140 people have died worldwide since March.


Uganda panic at swine flu hoax

22nd June 2009

An unsolicited text message, or SMS, sent panic through the streets of the Ugandan capital, Kampala, after it warned people against eating pork amid an "outbreak" of swine flu.

The H1N1 virus, which originated in pigs, was declared a phase 6 pandemic by the World Health Organisation (WHO) earlier this month. None of the cases reported so far have involved infection through consumption of pork.

The message claimed to come from Uganda's health ministry, which often uses SMS as a means of sending out health information to the population. Recently, it texted Ugandans to remind them to get immunised against polio.

The message said that those who passed the message on to 25 other people would get free calling minutes.

The ministry was forced to call a news conference to halt the panic, saying the reports that swine flu had broken out in the country were nothing but "baseless rumour".

Legislators even debated the hoax in Parliament, saying the message had caused them, too, to panic.
MP Mary Karoro Okurut demanded the government set the record straight for fear of causing nationwide alarm.

The text read: "Ministry of Health warning; to avoid swine flu which is suspected to be already in Uganda, you are advised not to eat pork or be near pigs for the time being. The first case reported in Ggaba and Nakulabye. Send this message to 25 people and MTN will reward you with airtime."

Paul Kaggwa, the assistant commissioner for health education and promotion in the Ministry of Health, said the rumour was probably started by a "funny and stupid person" who was opposed to pork.

Health minister Stephen Mallinga said Uganda had so far had no swine flu cases reported, but that the authorities were prepared for an outbreak.

Four cases of influenza-like symptoms had not tested positive for swine flu, he added.

His announcement was backed up by the country's top doctor, director for clinical services Nathan Kenya-Mugisha.

Mobile phone network service provider MTN has said it will block the text in future and investigate the origin.

The health ministry also reassured people that well-prepared pork was safe to eat.

Many in Uganda were surprised to hear the message was a hoax.

The first confirmed case of H1N1 influenza in sub-Saharan Africa was reported in South Africa last week.

No relief from swine flu over summer

19th June 2009

Most cases of swine flu in northeastern states say CDC.

DH swine flu update

19th June 2009

The Department of Health published a statement on 18 June about the most recent cases of swine flu in the UK.

It confirmed that 145 patients who were investigated through laboratory tests definitely have swine flu. When this figure is added to the 22 cases in Scotland confirmed on June 17 2009 by the Scottish government and the three cases in Northern Ireland confirmed by the Northern Ireland Executive it results in the total amount of cases of the disease in the UK now stands at 1,752 since April 2009.

PCTs warned over pandemic plans

18th June 2009

Primary care trusts have been ordered to “test to destruction” their readiness to deal with swine flu.

The Department of Health has cranked up its message amid concerns that some trusts may be complacent about their preparedness. Health secretary Andy Burnham and NHS chief executive David Nicholson have both stressed the need to be ready as the number of cases in the UK and elsewhere in the world continued to rise. Mr Nicholson warned a significant outbreak was likely this year and it was vital the NHS got its “act together”.


Birmingham cannot contain swine flu

18th June 2009

Health officials in Birmingham have warned that the spread of swine flu in the city can no longer be contained.

Fifty-five new cases have been confirmed in the West Midlands region taking the total to 567, which is more than half of the total cases in England. The city council now says that containment is too late for Birmingham and that it now needs to plan for the mitigation phase.

There are currently 1,582 confirmed cases of swine flu in the UK.


School closed for week due to swine flu

17th June 2009

A school in Berkshire has been closed for a week after a 13-year-old was confirmed as having swine flu.

Expert slams pandemic response

15th June 2009

A leading expert in emerging infectious diseases has lashed out at the World Health Organisation (WHO) for reacting too slowly in the face of swine flu, which it has now declared a pandemic.

Announcing the raising of the pandemic alert from phase 5 to phase 6 on Friday, WHO director-general Margaret Chan said further spread of the virus is now considered "inevitable" by leading international health experts and virologists.

Guan Yi, virologist at the University of Hong Kong and expert on emerging infectious diseases, accused the Geneva-based world health body of caving in to political pressure from major world powers.

"The level of pandemic alert was set at five by world experts and should have gone up to level six a month and a half ago," said Guan, who is currently preparing an analysis of the H1N1 swine flu virus, which has infected more than 26,000 people in 73 countries across the world.

"Why didn't the WHO raise the pandemic alert level? Because it was getting a lot of interference from a lot of countries," said Guan, who is working with scientists at Oxford University to track the evolution of the swine flu virus.

Head start

"Would the United States, Japan, and even mainland China close their borders? Of course they won't," said Guan.

"The WHO's loss of international authority has meant this outbreak has spread further and more rapidly than it might have."

Chan said that while more advanced technology had given the world "a head start" in monitoring the pandemic in its earliest stages, scientists were still working amid considerable uncertainty.

"The virus writes the rules, and this one, like all influenza viruses, can change the rules without rhyme or reason at any time," Chan said in a statement.

She noted that swine flu typically strikes younger people, making it different from seasonal flu, which typically hits the elderly.

"It is important to note that around one-third to half of the severe and fatal infections are occurring in previously healthy young and middle-aged people," Chan said, warning that poorer countries could carry a far higher proportion of deaths than developed countries with established health care systems.

"Countries should prepare to see cases, or the further spread of cases, in the near future," Chan warned. "Countries where outbreaks appear to have peaked should prepare for a second wave of infection."

Gearing up

She said populations around the world would be susceptible to infection with swine flu, but stopped short of recommending travel restrictions or border closures.

In the wake of Chan's statement, Asian countries are gearing up for a potential explosion of cases of swine flu, which has killed 140 people so far, most of them in Mexico and the United States.

Thailand, New Zealand, the Philippines, and China all reported two-digit increases in confirmed cases of the flu on Sunday.

Authorities in Vietnam said they are watching all those who cross the border by air, land, or sea.

"Vietnam has implemented necessary measures since 30 April 2009," Tran Tinh Hien, vice director of Ho Chi Minh city’s tropical diseases hospital said.

"Until now, there have been 21 cases, but only three of those were local people who got the virus from their relatives coming from other countries. All other cases were overseas Vietnamese, or students from foreign countries," he said.

"Ho Chi Minh City has experience because we dealt with outbreaks of bird flu in 2004, 2005, and 2006," Tran Tinh Hien said. "Our [hospitals] have experience in dealing with this situation."

"Our staff has been trained and has practiced methods to treat patients and learned how to avoid spreading the virus," he added.

More cases reported

Beijing says China has now found more than 100 cases of swine flu. The highest number of cases has emerged so far in the capital, with 33 confirmed infections.

An employee who answered the phone at the Beijing Health Bureau more cases had emerged in recent days. "The confirmed patients are now being treated in Ditan Hospital," the employee said.

In the southern province of Guangdong, which borders Hong Kong, the director of the emergency office of the provincial center for disease control, surnamed Song, said the authorities would adjust their plans accordingly following the WHO announcement.

"Preventative and control measures will surely be adjusted and increased accordingly, but as of now we haven’t received any official notification," Song said.

Authorities on the Chinese mainland confirmed 20 new H1N1 flu cases on Sunday, bringing the total number of infections to 185 with no fatalities reported yet.

New cases were reported in Beijing, the central provinces of Hubei and Hunan, the coastal provinces of Zhejiang, Fujian and Guangdong, the eastern province of Shandong, and Shanghai.

Health authorities in Hong Kong, where the outbreak of the SARS virus in 2003 killed 300 people in the city and 800 worldwide, reported the territory's first human case of swine flu.

Centre for Health Protection controller Thomas Tsang said the patient, a 55-year-old man, had caught the A(H1N1) virus at an event that another known swine flu patient had attended, becoming the first person known to have acquired the disease in Hong Kong itself.

Tsang told reporters: "He had no travel history during the incubation period. We find he had been at the same cocktail party function as the confirmed case on June 5."

Hong Kong's previous 49 confirmed swine flu cases were all found to have contracted the virus while overseas.

And an Australian lacrosse team has been quarantined in South Korea after a 19-year-old player tested positive for the virus after arriving at Incheon International Airport near Seoul.

Original reporting in Cantonese by Fung Yat-yiu, in Mandarin by Qiao Long, and in Vietnamese by Thao Dao. Mandarin service director: Jennifer Chou. Cantonese service director: Shiny Li. Vietnamese service director: Diem Nguyen. Additional translation by Jia Yuan and Hanh Seide. Executive producer: Susan Lavery. Translated and written for the web in English by Luisetta Mudie. Edited by Sarah Jackson-Han.

Copyright © 1998-2009 Radio Free Asia. All rights reserved.


First swine flu vaccine produced

16th June 2009

European drug manufacturer Novartis AG has succeeded in making the first H1N1 swine flu vaccine.

Though the vaccine was not expected to emerge for several weeks, its early release was facilitated by the method used by researchers to cultivate the virus.

The company said that, while vaccines are usually produced in eggs, the new vaccine was produced in ordinary cells.

The announcement came one day after the World Health Organisation (WHO) declared the start of the swine flu pandemic, the first such declaration since 1968.

WHO director Margaret Chan made the statement immediately after an international teleconference with influenza researchers.

Though the severity of swine flu may not increase, the declaration of a pandemic was triggered by the rapid spread of the virus across the Americas, Australia, Europe, and onto other places.

Novartis is currently still testing its first batch of the vaccine, which could be mass-produced on the order of millions of doses per week.

The US Department of Health and Human Services has already placed a US$289 million order for swine flu vaccines.

Chan said that the world is moving into the early days of its first influenza pandemic in the 21st century, and that the swine flu virus is now unstoppable.

However, Thomas Frieden, director of the US Center for Disease Control (CDC) said that there has been no change in the virus.

Anne Schuchat, director of the CDC's National Center for Immunization and Respiratory Disease said that the organisation has been responding as if it were a pandemic already.

She said that the declaration means that countries where there have not been any recorded cases of the flu need to prepare for its arrival.

Kathleen Sebelius, US Department of Health and Human Services Secretary, said that the declaration reminds the world that flu viruses like H1N1 need to be taken seriously.

She said that, although people have not seen large numbers of severe cases in the US, things could possibly be very different in the fall, especially if things change in the Southern Hemisphere.

The US Department of Homeland Security Secretary Janet Napolitano said that the decision to declare a state of pandemic comes as no surprise, and that people should prepare for a possible return in the fall.

She said that the Obama Administration has been working to keep the American people safe.

The Hong Kong flu of 1968  is recorded to have killed about 1 million people.

Ordinary seasonal flu kills between 250,000 and 500,000 people annually.

The H1N1 swine flu virus will return to the northern hemisphere at the beginning of winter 2009.

However, it is not possible to predict whether or not the virus will change during that time.

Pascal James Imperato, dean of public health at the State University of New York's Downstate Medical Center, said that a World Health Organisation level 6 alert states that H1N1 infections are now worldwide in distribution, is a declaration of the extent of geographic spread, and not a statement of severity of the clinical disease.

Baby of swine flu victim loses fight for life

16th June 2009

A family grieving for the loss of a woman who died after suffering from swine flu are now also mourning the death of her baby son.

Thirty-eight year old Jacqueline Fleming's death was confirmed at the Royal Alexandra Hospital in Paisley on June 14. She was the first person in Europe to die from the disease.

Her baby son Jack, who was 11 weeks premature, died on June 15. He did not have the swine flu virus.

Ms Fleming's partner William McCann said: "My beautiful son was born on the first of June 2009, 11 weeks early."

"He suffered from a number of complications and despite his brave fight he passed away earlier this evening at the Special Care Baby Unit at the Royal Alexandra Hospital in Paisley."

71 new cases of the virus have been diagnosed by doctors in the Greater Glasgow and Clyde NHS area. This raises the total number of cases in Scotland to 569.

Scotland's Health Secretary Nicola Sturgeon said that although Ms Fleming's death was a tragedy the public should be reassured that most cases of swine flu were "relatively mild".

She said: "It is important to stress that in any flu outbreak, unfortunately, we will see a small number of deaths and that doesn't change the fact that for the vast majority of people contracting this virus the symptoms are relatively mild."

New mum dies of swine flu

15th June 2009

The Scottish Government said a woman died on 14 June after suffering from the swine flu virus.

Jacqueline Fleming, 38, died in hospital. Professor Hugh Pennington, a bacteriologist at Aberdeen University, said her death was unhappy news but was "to be expected". "It does not point to the virus getting nastier. All the evidence to date suggests the virus is not changing at all. This is a flu virus, it is in no way different from an ordinary winter flu virus, so if there are enough cases some people will have to be admitted to hospital and some will die," he added.

Swine flu on the rise in Indian cities

15th June 2009

Reports suggest more people have tested positive for swine flu in India.

GPs may refuse to work amid flu pandemic

15th June 2009

The British Medical Association said GPs could decide to stop working if the swine flu pandemic gets worse.

They said doctors were concerned about facing lawsuits for the treatment they provided and had no provision for insurance payments for "death-in-service".

Hospital doctors are shielded by NHS indemnity, which covers them if they are sued for the treatment they give.

However, GPs have a different type of insurance which might not offer them protection during a virus pandemic.

The BMA called for clarification for GPs and requested that the NHS give GPs temporary cover.

The union and NHS Employers are holding discussions in order to resolve the issue, although the BMA warned that if an agreement was not reached soon it could cause difficulties if the virus became more prevalent in the autumn.

Dr Dean Marshall, one of the BMA's lead negotiators on flu planning, said of the pandemic: "Doctors will be putting their lives on the line and it is only right they can feel assured they are properly covered if anything goes wrong."

"We don't want to be going into it with GPs feeling unsure where they stand. Doctors are only human and some will not want to go on the front line."

Swine flu continues to spread

15th June 2009

The Department of Health has confirmed 172 more people are infected with swine flu in the UK, raising the total number of cases to 1,164.

117 cases were diagnosed in England and 55 in Scotland. A DoH spokesman said: "The localised cases of swine flu found in the UK have so far been generally mild in most people, but are proving to be severe in a small minority of cases. We are continuing to work to slow the spread of the disease and to put in place arrangements to ensure that the UK is well-placed to deal with this new infection."

FAQ - Swine flu

12th June 2009

Frequently asked questions about swine flu.

Swine flu pandemic calm urged

12th June 2009

The government has urged people in the UK to remain calm after the World Health Organisation announced that swine flu had reached the pandemic stage.

While more than 800 cases have been confirmed in the UK, government officials say the move does not fundamentally alter the approach being taken, which is based on containing local outbreaks. The H1N1 virus in this country has not yet spread as rapidly as it has in other countries such as the US, Mexico and Australia.


Swine flu outbreak closes Hong Kong schools

11th June 2009

Hong Kong authorities ordered all primary schools in the city to be closed for two weeks after swine flu found.

A/H1N1 virus continues to rise worldwide

8th June 2009

Swine flu cases continue to rise worldwide.

Baby born to swine flu patient

8th June 2009

A pregnant woman who has swine flu and is in hospital in Paisley has given birth prematurely.

The child was delivered at 29 weeks at the Royal Alexandra Hospital and is said to be in a stable condition.

The mother, who is 38, is seriously ill with the virus. She is one of a number of patients who have been admitted to the hospital with swine flu.

A woman aged 44 from Renfrewshire is in intensive care. A 23 year old woman and two men aged 37 and 45 have also been admitted to the hospital with the disease.

The 37 year old man has been transferred from intensive care to another unit after an improvement in his condition.

There are 508 people who have swine flu in the UK. 49 new cases of the virus were announced on Friday.

27 of the new cases were confirmed in England and 22 in Scotland.

Of the 27 cases in England, 14 were in London and five were confirmed in the South East. In Scotland, 16 cases were in the Highland health board region, one was in the Forth Valley and five in Greater Glasgow and Clyde.

Swine flu has now reached 66 countries. The World Health Organisation said it was "getting closer" to announcing a global epidemic.


Flu A/H1N1 cases keep rising in Asia-Pacific

5th June 2009

The A/H1N1 infection cases keep rising in the Asia-Pacific region as the flu-stricken countries and regions reported more cases.

US prepare for second wave of swine flu

5th June 2009

As swine flu wanes the US are preparing for a second wave in the autumn.

More than 450 swine flu cases in UK

5th June 2009

Latest figures show that the total number of swine flu cases in the UK has risen to 459 after another 55 cases were confirmed.

Of the new cases, 31 were in Scotland, 23 in England and one in Wales. They include a 44-year-old woman from Renfrewshire who is in intensive care and a 23-month-old toddler in Lothian, who is not seriously ill, along with a pupil from Stowe School in Buckinghamshire resulting in the closure of the boarding school.


First swine flu critical case in UK

3rd June 2009

A Scottish man is critically ill with swine flu, the first in the UK.

Swine flu confirmed in Luxembourg

2nd June 2009

Luxembourg has confirmed the country's first case of H1N1 flu.

New flu cases in football fans

2nd June 2009

Thirty-two more cases of swine flu have been confirmed in the UK, with 13 cases reported in a busload of football fans in Scotland.

Scottish Health Secretary Nicola Sturgeon said that although more cases of the disease had been reported there was "still absolutely no need for the public to be concerned".

"Most are showing very mild symptoms and people should therefore continue taking sensible hygiene precautions to ensure preventable spread of the virus is minimised," she said. 

Swine flu at Eton

29th May 2009

A 13-year-old pupil from the public school Eton has tested positive for swine flu.

The Berkshire boys’ school, attended by Princes William and Harry, will be closed until June 7 as a result and on the advice of health authorities. The Eton case is one of a further 17 cases of the virus which have been diagnosed in the UK, taking the total to 203. Fourteen of the new cases are part of an outbreak now totalling 64 cases linked to Welford Primary School in Birmingham.


Step closer to swine flu vaccine

29th May 2009

UK scientists at the National Institute for Biological Standards and Control have produced a viral strain which could be used to make a vaccine for swine flu.

The team said their work was a "crucial step" towards the manufacture of a vaccine which could treat large numbers of people.

Researchers in America have also discovered a strain which could be used to make a vaccine against the H1N1 virus.

In order to find a strain, researchers must make a "hybrid strain" which combine the swine flu virus with a known "laboratory" strain.

The UK team used the "reverse genetics" technique. They combined gene sequences from the H1N1 virus, which can be identified by the immune system, with gene sequences from the laboratory strain.

The goal of this type of research is to produce a virus which a person's immune system can identify as the H1N1 virus, but can be safely and easily manufactured in large batches.

Dr Stephen Inglis, director of NIBSC, said the team had been "working around the clock" since May.

He added: "I am delighted that they have been successful so quickly."

"The strain is now available for supply to vaccine manufacturers so that they can begin the first steps in the vaccine production process, and to other flu laboratories around the world for research."


Man critical with suspected swine flu

28th May 2009

A 37-year-old man from Glasgow man who has been identified as a potential case of swine flu is critically ill.

There is also no evidence of the man, who was admitted to the intensive care unit of the Victoria Infirmary last Thursday with a chest infection, having had contact with any known case of swine flu and he had no history of recent travel. Results from tests for a range of viruses confirmed he was a positive case of influenza A and swine flu was "highly probable".


Swine flu outbreak at Birmingham school

27th May 2009

Forty-four new cases of swine flu have been diagnosed at a Birmingham primary school bringing total to 184 in the UK.

Taiwan braces for swine flu

26th May 2009

Authorities in Taiwan are bracing for a potential epidemic of swine flu in the autumn, although the current outbreak is expected to stabilise soon.

The island's health minister said the outbreak of influenza A (H1N1) would be brought under control by the end of June, although a projected 20,000 deaths could potentially occur on the island, which has been under de facto independent rule since the end of the Chinese civil war in 1949.

Yeh Ching-chuan told legislators at a social welfare committee meeting that the government had ordered six tonnes of shikimic acid, a key ingredient to produce Tamiflu, a front-line medication in the fight against the virus.

Taiwan would be able to produce one tonne of Tamiflu for use by one million of the island's 20-million people, Yeh said.

He added that the government would also procure 10 million doses of vaccine against the A(H1N1) flu.

The government would source 2.5 million doses of swine flu vaccine from foreign pharmaceutical manufacturers.

If necessary, it would also contract local companies to produce the other 7.5 million doses, he said.

The government has scheduled a vaccination programme to get under way in October, should the need arise.

Called to address the committee on Taiwan's recent participation in the World Health Assembly in Geneva, Switzerland, and to describe the government's measures against swine flu, Yeh forecast a second wave of outbreaks later in the year.

Taiwan is frequently barred from full membership in international bodies, with its acceptance as a sovereign state routinely blocked by Beijing.

Yeh said the alert level could remain as low as yellow, a second-stage warning which indicates that only imported cases have been found so far.

With a global mortality rate of 0.7% found around the world so far, swine flu could potentially cause the deaths of 20,000 Taiwanese, he added.


Spanish soldiers hit by swine flu

26th May 2009

Eleven new cases of swine flu have been diagnosed at a Spanish military school.

More cases of UK swine flu

26th May 2009

The Health Protection Agency has confirmed eight more cases of swine flu, raising the total number of people infected with the virus in the UK to 120.

There are currently 168 other potential cases which are being investigated.

The HPA said two people from the South East, two people in London and a child from the West Midlands were the most recent cases.

Welford School in Birmingham was shut early for half term after a pupil was found to have swine flu.

The HPA said there was "evidence of respiratory illness throughout the school community and any pupils showing symptoms would be given antiviral drugs as a precautionary measure."

The five new cases included two people who had returned from travelling and one who had a link with a "previously confirmed" case.

NHS London stated that the number of people infected with the H1N1 virus in the capital stands at 65.

The two new cases are a female from Bexley who had been in contact with someone infected with the virus and a male from Haringey who was infected "by an as yet unknown source".

In Scotland, three more cases of the virus were confirmed.


Australia ups swine flu threat level

22nd May 2009

Authorities in Australia have raised the country's pandemic threat level as the number of confirmed cases of swine flu rose to 12.

Following a meeting of the Australian Public Health Committee, the government has given itself sweeping powers which could force the closure of schools, public places and big events.

Australia's first case of human-to-human transmission occured in a 10-year-old girl who caught the H1N1 influenza strain from a classmate who fell sick after a family holiday to the United States.

A further two cases were confirmed in teenagers in Melbourne and Adelaide who had not travelled overseas or come into contact with an identified case.

The government promptly escalated its pandemic management plan, shifting to a "containment" phase giving the government greater scope to try to control the spread of the disease.

The phase provides for social distancing measures like school closures, which have already taken place in South Australia and Victoria.

Health Nicola Roxon said there were three more phases to go before the threat level was at its highest.

The threat level was raised in reaction to a new phase of more widespread transmission in Australia, she added.

In Melbourne, a 25 year-old man newly returned from Los Angeles was confirmed as having swine flu, while a 17 year-old boy also tested positive for the virus.

And the 40 year-old mother of a teenage girl from Adelaide, who was South Australia state's first confirmed case, was confirmed as having swine flu, the most recent of the 12 cases.

The girl's brother was awaiting a re-test, officials said.

Investigations are under way into how the teenagers in Melbourne caught the disease, which has prompted the World Health Organisation (WHO) to warn that an influenza pandemic is "imminent".

Neither teenager had been overseas or had known contact with identified cases, and their movements were now being tracked in minute detail, Roxon said, adding that the situation was "serious", though there was no cause for alarm.

Australia's chief medical officer Jim Bishop has warned that the outbreak must be controlled as the country enters the southern hemisphere winter flu season.

Since the outbreak of A(H1N1) influenza emerged in Mexico and the United States a month ago, more than 11,000 confirmed cases and 85 deaths have been recorded.


Swine flu curbs lifted in Mexico

22nd May 2009

Mexico City has lifted all restrictions imposed following the outbreak of swine flu.

Swine flu could have started in lab

21st May 2009

Expert believes swine flu epidemic was caused by human error.

WHO appeal over swine flu vaccine

20th May 2009

The WHO urged pharmaceutical companies to reserve some of their swine flu vaccines for poor countries.

Global swine flu nears 10,000

20th May 2009

The World Health Organisation has said that nearly 10,000 cases of swine flu have been confirmed in 40 countries.

So far 79 people are known to have died from the new virus, leading UN Secretary General Ban Ki-Moon to tell the World Health Assembly that "global solidarity" was needed, particularly regarding distributing any vaccine. The global tally of swine flu cases stands at 9,830, after rising by 1,001 in one day with most of the new flu victims in Mexico with some 545 cases and the US, where 409 new cases were confirmed.


Swine flu sees hundreds of Japanese schools close

18th May 2009

The number of confirmed swine flu cases in Japan soared from four to more than 120.

Vaccine supplies for swine flu secured

18th May 2009

The government has confirmed that it has signed a £450 million contract to ensure 90 million doses of swine flu vaccine will be available by the end of 2009.

GlaxoSmithKline will provide 60 million doses of the vaccine and Baxter will supply 30 millions doses. Alan Johnson, health secretary, said: "These additional arrangements provide the opportunity by December this year to have enough pre-pandemic vaccine to protect at least half of the population from swine flu."

England confirms fourteen new cases of swine flu

18th May 2009

The Health Protection Agency has said that fourteen new cases of swine flu have been confirmed.

This raises the total number of cases in England to 101. Ten of the new cases were found in London, three in Surrey and one in the East of the country. Eleven of the people with swine flu had been in contact with people who had "previously confirmed cases" of the virus.

Swine flu will continue to spread

19th May 2009

Experts at the World Health Organisation (WHO) predict that swine flu will continue its spread around the world.

The news came after cases of the virus spiked by more than 1,000 within a 24-hour period.

Acting WHO Assistant Director-General Keiji Fukuda said that a large number of infection cases were not confirmed by laboratory testing.

He said that their work also suggested the virus was transmissible enough for continued community level outbreaks and regional spread.

According to the latest data, 7,520 people in 34 countries have been confirmed to have caught influenza A(H1N1).

The number of confirmed deaths is highest in Mexico, followed by the United States, Canada, and Costa Rica.

WHO Director-General Margaret Chan said that the virus has quickly demonstrated its capacity to spread easily from one person to another, to spread widely within an affected country and to spread rapidly to additional countries.

She said she expected this pattern of international spread to continue, since this is a time of great uncertainty, and great pressure on governments, ministries of health and the WHO.

World governments have not stopped giving updates about the progress of the virus in their respective countries.

The Mexican health minister, Jose Angel Cordova, said two more deaths have been confirmed in the country and the total number of fatalities there was now at 66, with 2,829 confirmed infections overall.

However, he said that the rate of infections was still steadily falling.

In the United States, the rate of infection is still rising, with the number of confirmed cases at 4,298.

Three schools were recently closed in New York City, and 4,500 students sent home, following the hospitilisation of an assistant principal.

The New York City mayor Michael Bloomberg said that there was an unusually high level of flu-like illnesses in the city.

Fukuda said that the behaviour of swine flu would also depend on whether it was winter in one part of the world or another.

He said that half of those who have died from swine flu have been young and otherwise healthy adults, though right now it is not known what the future will bring.

Pharmaceutical giant GlaxoSmithKline has said that it would begin to develop 130 million doses of a swine flu vaccine for use in France, Belgium, Britain, and Finland.

US president Barack Obama has appointed New York City health chief Thomas Frieden as the new director of the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC).

Frieden is an epidemiologist who left the CDC in 2002 when he was appointed New York health commissioner.

The confirmed infected total has risen to four in Belgium, and two in Norway: both students recently returned from Mexico. 


Seven new cases of swine flu in UK

15th May 2009

Seven new cases of swine in the UK have been confirmed.

Wales still on swine flu alert

14th May 2009

Health Minister Edwina Hart has said swine flu remains a 'serious situation' in Wales.

One in three could contract swine flu

13th May 2009

Experts predict that a third of the world’s population could be infected with swine flu.

They believe swine flu has full pandemic potential and is likely to go global in the next few months.

However, while saying one in three people who come into contact are likely to become infected, the team from the Imperial College London has declined to estimate the death toll.

Lead researcher Professor Neil Ferguson, who sits on the World Health Organisation's (WHO) emergency committee for the outbreak, said it was too early to say whether the virus will cause deaths on a massive scale or prove little more lethal than normal seasonal flu.

But he added: "This virus really does have full pandemic potential. It is likely to spread around the world in the next six to nine months and when it does so it will affect about one-third of the world's population.

"To put that into context, normal seasonal flu probably affects around 10% of the world's population every year, so we are heading for a flu season which is perhaps three times worse than usual."

The study, published in the journal Science, is based on Mexico's experience.

Latest WHO figures show confirmed cases have reached 5,251 in 30 countries with 61 deaths from the disease.

Professor Ferguson’s analysis suggests the H1N1 virus is as dangerous as the virus behind a 1957 pandemic that killed two million people worldwide but not as lethal as the 1918 Spanish flu pandemic, which claimed an estimated 50 million lives.


Confirmed flu cases rise in US

12th May 2009

Health officials in the United States say they have now confirmed 2,532 cases of swine flu after a spike in numbers in the past few days.

The number jumped by about 600 since Friday and now puts the US ahead of Mexico as the country most affected by the virus.

Death rates are far lower however, with just three deaths confirmed from swine flu compared with 48 south of the border.

The outbreak in Mexico led to the temporary closure of non-essential sectors of the economy, and of schools for two weeks.

This was followed over the weekend by a mass disinfection campaign. Schools have reopened in some areas, while other states are keeping them closed as more suspected cases are reported.

The shutdown was ordered by the government in a bid to control the outbreak, which began in Mexico but spread to 4,300 cases in 30 countries.

Mexico has a total of 1,626 confirmed cases.

China reported its first confirmed case of bird flu on Monday.

The disease in the US has so far been mostly mild in character. The most recent death, of a man in his thirties with a heart condition, was reported on Saturday.

But the virus has yet to run its course, according to health officials.

The US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) warned that more cases, more hospitalisations and more deaths would occur in the days and weeks to come from swine flu.

The sudden spike in confirmed cases may be due to a new test kit developed by CDC and rolled out across the US and Puerto Rico, as well as to other countries.

CDC said the increase in testing capacity would probably result in higher numbers of reported confirmed cases in the US.

This should provide a more accurate picture of the burden of disease from swine flu, it said.

More UK swine flu cases

11th May 2009

A spokeswoman for the Department of Health has said seven more cases of swine flu have been diagnosed in people in England.

This makes the total number of cases diagnosed in the UK rise to 55. One of the new cases was in the East of England and the rest were diagnosed in London. "So far, all infections in the UK have been mild, and cases have been diagnosed and treated early," the spokeswoman said.

Swine flu vaccine prototype step closer

11th May 2009

Health Secretary Alan Johnson has described the work by UK scientists in deciphering swine flu's genetic code as a "significant step".

Researchers at the National Institute for Biological Standards and Control (NIBSC) are using European samples in order to find the "full genetic fingerprint" of the strain.

Alan Johnson said on a visit to the NIBSC: "The speed with which vaccine prototypes can be created to combat potential pandemics is testimony to the dedication and world-class expertise of Health Protection Agency researchers."

The Health Protection Agency said that it has given pure samples of the virus to researchers investigating a vaccine for swine flu.

This will help scientists to draw comparisons between the European strain of the virus with the type infecting people in Mexico and the US, and find out how it affects the immune system.

Professor Maria Zambon, director of the HPA Centre for Infections, said they were finding out more each day.

"The pure sample of virus that we have isolated, together with its genetic fingerprint, will be important resources as scientific organisations join forces on the development of an effective vaccine."

"The rapid assessment of this virus will ultimately help us to make future decisions regarding the health implications of swine flu."


Two more swine flu cases in UK

8th May 2009

Health secretary Alan Johnson has confirmed two more cases of swine flu in the UK.

This takes the total to 34 with one of the new cases being a child at one of the five schools that have already closed. Ten of those diagnosed had not been to Mexico but there was not yet evidence of "sustained" person-to-person UK transmission of the virus, he said, though it was reasonable to expect cases to increase and the situation "could rapidly escalate".


Swine flu 'not as deadly' as first thought

7th May 2009

Experts have indicated that swine flu seems to be less deadly than at first thought.

However, they are also warning against complacency and say the low number of cases so far does not preclude from there being a surge in cases.

Scientists from the Interdisciplinary Centre for Human and Avian Influenza Research have sequenced the virus.

They have discovered it is composed of North American and Eurasian swine flu viruses.

Professor Richard Elliott, professor of Virology at the Centre for Biomolecular Sciences at St Andrews University, said it remained too early to say if a pandemic was imminent.

He added: “The next two weeks are crucial. We will see if the number of cases sky-rocket or it just peters out. If the number of cases shoots up in the next few days I would be concerned.”

However, RCGP honorary secretary Dr Maureen Baker said whether or not a pandemic occurred there remain concerns that the new strain could worsen the seasonal outbreaks experienced every year.

“When a brand new strain emerges there is no resistance and new strains may emerge related to the pandemic one and could be around for 20 to 40 years,” she said.

Other experts have warned the swine flu virus is more virulent than the regular winter flu H1N1 viruses that affect humans.

Director-general of the World Health Organisation Dr Margaret Chan has warned against overconfidence saying that flu viruses are “very unpredictable, very deceptive.”

“We hope it fizzles out because if it doesn’t we are heading for a big outbreak,” she said.


Can science save us from second wave of swine flu?

7th May 2009

Can science stop the possibility of a more virulent version of swine flu coming back and killing millions?

How many swine flu deaths in Mexico?

7th May 2009

Only seven people have died from swine flu in Mexico, not around 159 as reported.

Vaccine for swine flu Q&A

7th May 2009

The WHO says work on a vaccine for swine flu began as soon as the first human case of the virus became known.

Four more swine flu cases confirmed in the UK

7th May 2009

Officials have said four more adults confirmed as having swine flu in England.

Latest probable swine flu case a New York plane passenger

6th May 2009

The Scottish health minister has announced a woman is suspected of contracting swine flu after trip to New York.

Texas woman dies from swine flu

6th May 2009

Texas health officials confirm that a Texas woman with the H1N1 swine flu has died.

Swine flu spam warning

6th May 2009

A warning has been issued by Interpol about potential for criminals to exploit the swine flu outbreak through spam emails and websites selling illegal, unlicensed or fake medicines.

Interpol said that internet secruity firms were reporting 3-4% of spam emails last week were related to swine flu and this number was expected to increase.

Also hundreds of new web pages have been created.

Jen-Michel Louboutin, Interpol’s executive director of police services, said the public risked their wellbeing and their money if they responded to spam swine flu emails or attempted to order medication online through illegal websites.


Swine flu pandemic could be as severe as 1968

5th May 2009

The head of the National Influenza Laboratory at the Health Protection Agency's Centre for Infections has said swine flu is not likely to reach similar proportions to the 1918 Spanish flu pandemic in the UK.

Dr Maria Zambon said that teams were working on predicting how the virus would spread in the UK. She said it was more likely to resemble the Hong Kong flu outbreak seen in 1968: "It is highly unlikely to be as severe as the 1918 pandemic...but it is worth remembering that influenza is an unpredictable virus. The virus we have here is an animal virus that is not adapted to human beings, but it is very likely it will adapt to humans."

Poor could miss out on flu vaccine

5th May 2009

Most vaccine developers are located in developed countries, and this could undermine the ability of developing countries to combat a swine flu pandemic.

A leading development organisation has warned that companies which make flu vaccines may have commitments they must meet to serve the needs of populations in those countries.

According to Sangeeta Shashikant, a researcher at the Third World Network, almost all of the world's vaccine production capacity is located in just nine developed countries.

She said that, in the event of a pandemic, the governments of these countries are likely to have entered into advance purchase agreements with vaccine manufacturers, meaning that poorer countries will lose out in the event of an influenza pandemic.

Developing countries without their own manufacturing capacity would be forced to rely on the goodwill of other countries, or of pharmaceutical companies.

Developing countries have already been identified as being particularly vulnerable to the developing swine flu outbreak, which is on the threshold of developing into a full-fledged pandemic.

UN secretary general Ban Ki-moon warned that poorer countries had been hit hard by other crises this year, including food, energy, the global economy and climate change.

He said extra efforts would be needed to make sure they did not also get the worst of any public health crisis.

A handful of labs in developed countries are already taking samples of different strains of the swine flu virus from infected people in order to create a vaccine virus.

A vaccine virus is a version of the virus that contains the correct antigens against the swine flu strain but has been disabled so it does not actually cause disease in humans.

The World Health Organisation (WHO) has a process in place which would request manufacturers to switch from seasonal to pandemic vaccine production, but there would be a wait of six months before the vaccine became available.

The WHO has not yet initiated this process.

Pandemic flu vaccines targeted at the feared H5N1 avian influenza virus have already been donated to a WHO stockpile in case they can be pressed into service in the fight against swine flu, or H1N1.

GlaxoSmithKline has reportedly handed over 50 million doses and Sanofi 60 million doses, while Novartis has ppledged to follow suit.

Tachi Yamada — executive director of the global health programme at the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation said however that the swine flu pandemic was "a whole new ballgame".

Yamada said vaccine manufacturers were all quite aware of their role and responsibilities in reacting to this kind of crisis and were "interested in doing the right thing".

They were currently awaiting instructions from global health authorities, Yamada said.

The WHO is currently in talks with major pharmaceutical companies to assess their production capacity and the percentage of vaccine output that could go to poorer countries.

The WHO's Ravini Thenabadu said developing country access was of "the utmost importance".

Under WHO procedures, virus samples are sent to its own centres and may then be passed on to pharmaceutical companies to make vaccines.

In 2007, Indonesia refused to send any more bird flu samples until the government had negotiated a share of the benefits in the form of access to the final vaccines.

Critics say the current arrangement gives unfair access to crucial samples to drug companies who then make a profit from vaccine sales.

Solutions might include setting aside a percentage of the vaccine for developing countries to purchase at a reduced price, creating an emergency WHO stockpile of the vaccine and placing a portion of vaccine manufacturers' profits into a fund for developing countries.

Mexico's five-day shutdown

5th May 2009

Mexico is nearing the end of a five-day shutdown of non-essential businesses and government offices in a bid to halt the spread of the H1N1 influenza virus, known as swine flu.

People were urged in a televised address by President Felipe Calderon to stay home to avoid becoming infected.

Non-essential businesses, industries and services like offices, restaurants, schools and football stadiums were closed, although manufacturing associations and mine companies said they would defy the ban.

Only supermarkets, hospitals and pharmacies remained open during the five-day quarantine period, which began Friday.

Police stations, airports and the public transport system remained open during the weekend and public holiday, but only critical government workers such as police and soldiers remained on duty.

Calderon's government has been criticised for failing to tackle the burgeoning public health crisis sooner.

Usually bustling streets in Mexico City were eerily quiet during the holiday weekend, with many people closing up shop early.

But previous warnings by health officials to avoid shaking hands, kissing and public gatherings have largely been ignored by the general population.

Hotel staff in the booming tourist city of Cancun have been telling tourists that the H1N1 virus has not yet affected the town.

And many in the capital were confused about whether their jobs were considered "essential" or not.
Long queues formed outside one major Mexico City supermarket as panic buying took place ahead of the weekend.

Around 2,500 suspected cases of H1N1 have been reported in Mexico. Of those, only 99 have been confirmed, and eight have been fatal.

As many as 168 people in Mexico are suspected to have died from the virus, which was first reported in the town of La Gloria, 110 miles east of Mexico City.

Hundreds in the town were left struggling to breathe after a five-year-old boy in the town was diagnosed.

New deaths and cases seem to have peaked in Mexico now, and health experts believe the worst of the outbreak may be over.

The United States, the European Union and other countries have urged their nationals to cancel non-essential travel to Mexico.


Statement on A(H1N1) and safety of pork

1st May 2009

Concerns about the possibility of A/H1N1 virus being found in pigs and the safety of pork and pork products has been raised.

Eight patients diagnosed with swine flu in England

1st May 2009

The Royal College of Physicians has published draft guidance for NHS strategic planners and clinicians on dealing with a flu pandemic.

As it emerged that there were eight confirmed cases of swine flu in the UK – six in England and two in Scotland – the RCP was recommending high risk patients would be given a yellow card while lower risk issued a blue card to help identify which existing outpatients should be given priority and still seen even if the hospital needs to declare emergency measures to cope with and contain a pandemic.


School closed due to swine flu

30th April 2009

The number of confirmed swine flu cases in Britain has risen to five as a school was closed.

Doctor's diary on swine flu

30th April 2009

BBC diary doctor Lucy Andrews talks about the signs of Swine flu and what you should do if you think you are infected.

Pandemic flu plan stepped up in NI

30th April 2009

Health chiefs have confirmed they have stepped up pandemic flu planning in Northern Ireland.

Limited vaccine warning

30th April 2009

Warning that limited stocks of a future swine flu vaccine could be distributed on a 'first-come, first-served' basis.

Swine flu pandemic 'imminent' fears WHO

30th April 2009

The World Health Organisation has indicated that a swine flu pandemic is imminent.

The WHO raised the alert to level five – just one below pandemic status - indicating human-to-human transmission in at least two countries.

This status is regarded as a “strong signal” that a pandemic is now imminent.

Latest figures show that after Mexico, the US has the highest number of confirmed cases with 91.

And in Europe, senior health officials say that deaths are expected, in the hundreds or even thousands.

Mexico has 168 suspected deaths, with eight confirmed, and the country’s President Felipe Calderon has now announced the partial suspension of non-essential work and services from May 1 to May 5.

After an emergency WHO meeting in Geneva, General Margaret Chan announced the latest alert level and urged all countries to activate their pandemic plans.

This included heightened surveillance and infection-control measures with action needing to be undertaken with increased urgency.

She emphasised that it is the "whole of humanity that is under threat in a pandemic"  but also said the world was better prepared than it ever has been to cope with an influenza pandemic.

The director-general of health and consumer protection in Europe, Robert Madelin, said deaths were likely.

"It is not a question of whether people will die, but more a question of how many. Will it be hundreds, thousands or tens of thousands?", he said.

Other countries with confirmed cases are New Zealand, Canada, UK, Spain, Germany, Israel, Costa Rica, Switzerland, Austria and Peru.


Two-year-old American boy dies of swine flu

29th April 2009

The first death from swine flu outside Mexico.

Flu masks on way to NI

29th April 2009

More than one million protective face masks are to be delivered to Northern Ireland in fight to contain global outbreak of swine flu.

Swine flu vaccine 'months away'

29th April 2009

Experts say it could take until January, or late November at earliest to develop vaccine for swine flu.

Swine flu advice for UK homes

29th April 2009

Every household in the UK is set to receive a leaflet about the swine flu outbreak and how to prevent its spread.

The Department of Health is also looking at increasing stockpiles of masks, which are likely to be issued to health professionals.

The number of swine flu cases is rising across the world and test results are expected on 23 people in Scotland.

So far some 160 people have been killed by it in Mexico and America has confirmed the first death outside of Mexico with news that a 23-month-old child has died.

Chief Medical Officer for England Sir Liam Donaldson and Health Secretary Alan Johnson have held emergency talks and kept Prime Minister Gordon Brown briefed, with the World Health Organisation now raising the alert status to level four.

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

Meanwhile, Mr Johnson has said anti-viral drugs will be used to treat patients showing symptoms, should the virus start spreading in the UK.

The Foreign Office is advising against all but essential travel to Mexico and has suspended routine consular and visa services at the Mexico City embassy.

NHS Direct has put a freeze on staff time off as it anticipates a sharp rise calls. Its website has been busier than usual.


Four-year-old could be source of swine flu outbreak

28th April 2009

The state government of Veracruz in eastern Mexico confirmed a case of swine flu in the village of La Gloria with the sufferer named locally as a four-year-old boy.

Four in 10 Britons could fall ill with swine flu

28th April 2009

Professor Neil Ferguson of Imperial College London has warned that 40% of people in Britain could be infected with swine flu in the next six months if it becomes a pandemic.

Professor Ferguson, a member of the World Health Organisation taskforce, told the BBC Radio 4 Today programme: "We don't really know what size epidemic we will get over 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 seasonal epidemic in the autumn." 

Swine flu alert for British hospitals

28th April 2009

The government has sent out a swine flu alert to all hospitals in Britain after two patients at a Scottish hospital tested positive for the virus.

The Scottish Health Secretary Nicola Sturgeon confirmed that a young couple who had recently returned from Mexico were "recovering well" in hospital.

She added: "The threat to the public remains very low and the precautionary action we have been taking has allowed us to respond appropriately. It puts us in the best possible position to stem and disrupt the virus. We are trying to put a ring around the virus."

“It is important to say that outside of Mexico, everyone who has contracted swine flu has experienced mild symptoms.”

Health Secretary Alan Johnson said they expected to see more cases of swine flu and that any traveller coming into the country with symptoms would be seen "very, very quickly".

Mr Johnson stated that there had not been any severe cases of the virus outside of Mexico and Britain had stockpiled 33.5 million doses of antiviral treatments.

The Chief Medical Officer Professor Sir Liam Donaldson sent out the flu alert in order to warn hospitals about symptoms, what precautions to take and how to report cases of the virus.

If a pandemic occurs, the national flu pandemic strategy - originally composed in response to the potential danger of bird flu - would be put in place. The Department of Health would set up an operations room in order to control medical supplies and vaccines.


'Too late' to contain swine flu

28th April 2009

International health experts say it is now too late to contain the outbreaks of swine influenza reported in Mexico, Canada and the United States, saying that a global pandemic could be on the way.

The international threat level for an influenza pandemic has now been raised.

An Emergency Committee of the World Health Organisation (WHO) held a second meeting on 27 April to review all available data from confirmed outbreaks of A(H1N1) swine influenza and to assess the risk of the continued spread of the disease.

As a result, Director-General Margaret Chan raised the level of pandemic alert from phase 3 to phase 4, indicating that the likelihood of a pandemic has increased, but that it is not inevitable.

The experts made the decision because human-to-human transmission of the virus, which is normally contracted after direct contact between pigs and humans, was confirmed.

The virus was also shown to be capable of causing disease outbreaks in a community.

Chan said that containment of the outbreak was no longer feasible, and called on health authorities to focus on mitigation measures.

Borders should not be closed, however, and international travel should not be restricted, she said.

However, anyone who was ill should delay international travel, and anyone who experienced symptoms following international travel should seek medical attention.

She said the production of seasonal influenza vaccine should continue subject to re-evaluation as the situation evolves.

WHO said it will facilitate the process needed to develop a vaccine effective against A(H1N1) virus.

The European Union said it had already responded rapidly to the current threat to public health, and was closely monitoring the situation.

"We are making use of all our information channels, the mechanisms set in the past and the experience gained during the bird flu crisis, for the exchange of data and for the monitoring of the situation," EU Health Commissioner Androulla Vassiliou said in a statement.

Diseases like the one due to swine influenza virus A(H1N1) could represent a global challenge, in particular because of rapid and frequent international travel, Vassiliou said.

She said officials were working with global health experts to understand precisely the mechanism of transmission, to evaluate the potential danger to the health of citizens, and the resources to treat patients, such as vaccines and antivirals.

The EU was currently considering the correct medical countermeasures to put in place to counter the threat of swine flu, Vassiliou added.


World reacts to swine flu outbreak

27th April 2009

Authorities in California have confirmed two cases of swine flu, amid an investigation by local, state and federal level health officials.

Governments around the world have reacted to the spread of swine flu cases, which are believed to have originated in Mexico.

The European Commission has called an urgent meeting of health ministers as fears grew of a swine flu pandemic after a virus killed 103 people in Mexico and spread to the United States.

China has banned imports of live pigs and pork products from Mexico and Texas, California and Kansas.

In California, experts were still looking for the source of the disease after a 9-year-old girl in Imperial County and a 10-year-old boy in San Diego County were identified as having had the virus.

A swine flu virus that has killed 103 people in Mexico and spread to North America has also been confirmed to have reached Europe, with Spanish health officials confirming a case in a man recently returned from Mexico.

Officials are interviewing and testing family members and all people who had contact with the two children, neither of whom needed to go to hospital, and both of whom have recovered.

It is unclear whether the virus, which is rare in humans, though often causes respiratory problems in pigs, was transmitted from another person, as neither patient had had any contact with pigs.

Typically, the H1N1 swine flu virus, similar to seasonal flu viruses, causes a mild illness, including fever, lethargy, cough and a lack of appetite.

San Diego and Imperial counties are on the border with Mexico, and US health officials have been in contact with their counterparts in Mexico, Canada, and the World Health Organisation (WHO), asking them to test anyone with similar symptoms and to send the samples in to the US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC).

The cases came to official attention because they were seen in clinics carrying out routine surveillance for influenza infections.

CDC's Lyn Finelli told neither child, a 10-year-old boy and a 9-year-old girl, had especially severe symptoms, although the girl had had a fever of 104 degrees, and that there was no need for the public to take any action.

Officials were not assuming widespread infections, although the specific strain of swine flu had not been seen before, according to CDC.

Finelli said 12 known cases of infection with swine flu had been reported, but 11 of them had followed known contact with pigs.

Influenza viruses still kill between 250,000 and 500,000 people in an average year around the world, and experts say a global pandemic strain, for which the majority of people lack immunity, is likely to arise. Previous pandemic fears have centred around H5N1 avian influenza, or bird flu.

Bird flu currently only rarely infects people but has killed 257 out of 420 infected in 15 countries since 2003. But the CDC said it did not believe that the swine flu cases represented the beginning of a flu pandemic.

Documented cases of swine flu being transmitted from one human to another are rare, with the most serious outbreak in recent years in New Jersey in 1976, when a soldier died, sparking a nationwide immunisation programme.

The 1976 New Jersey virus appeared similar to the one linked to the 1918-19 pandemic in which tens of millions of people died worldwide.

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Article Information

Title: World reacts to swine flu outbreak
Author: Tomas Cerney
Article Id: 11091
Date Added: 27th Apr 2009


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