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Swine flu alerts raised as spread continues

Thurs April 30th, 2009

Official concern about swine flu reached a new level last night as infections spread across Europe.

Cases were reported in Germany and Austria while the USA reported the death of a Mexican child.

The World Health Organisation increased its alert level to 5 - one short of a confirmed pandemic.

In Britain cases were reported throughout the country and a college in Paignton, Devon, was closed for a week after a student fell ill.

Other cases were confirmed in London and the West Midlands and health officials were posted to greet all flights from Mexico at airports.

The WHO continued to state there was no grounds for restricting travel or closing borders.

Director-general Dr Margaret Chan said the new alert level meant that all countries should put pandemic preparedness plans into action and remain on high alert.

She said: "For the first time in history, we can track the evolution of a pandemic in real-time.

"WHO and health authorities in affected countries will not have all the answers immediately, but we will get them."

She said the potential severity of the pandemic was the key question - and that it was quite usual for flu to cause severe disease in poor countries and mild disease in wealthier countries.

* In Britain, as alarm spread, pharmacists warned against trying to buy anti-flu remedies on-line.problem of influenza A virus

David Pruce of the Royal Pharmaceutical Society said: "With the current fears about swine flu, we are concerned that unscrupulous people are exploiting the public's fears about swine flu by offering to sell the antiviral drugs Tamiflu and Relenza over the internet. This is a golden opportunity for counterfeiters to offer fake supplies of these drugs. People can be at real risk if they buy medicines from unknown sources."

* The Royal College of GPs issued a ready reckoner for GPs to help prepare for the epidemic.

* Warwick University, UK, sought public help for a new project to map the "social interactions" which contribute to a flu epidemic. Professor Matthew Keeling launched an on-line survey.

* In the USA, researchers warned that influenza A might never be eliminated - and that viruses might spread even more easily than previously realised..Flu researcher Dan Perez

According to Professor Daniel Perez, of the University of Maryland, the swine virus outbreak has highlighted how new flu viruses are formed - by mixing strains from birds and humans in other animals, such as pigs, creating endless new combinations of virus.

After conducting laboratory experiments he stated: "This is just the tip of the iceberg.

"Many more studies have to be done to see which combinations of mutations cause this type of transmission before we can design the appropriate vaccines."

Discuss this report here

Tags: Flu & Viruses | World Health | North America | Travel | UK News | Europe | Australia

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