Scotland on swine flu alert: two in hospital
TWO Scots were in isolation in hospital undergoing tests for swine flu last night as the global health scare spread to the UK.
The Scottish Government said the couple, believed to be from the Forth Valley area, fell ill shortly after returning from a holiday in Mexico last Tuesday and were immediately taken to Monklands Hospital in Airdrie, Lanarkshire, for tests.
About 20 friends and family members who came in contact with the patients after their return to Scotland are also being monitored. They will also be taken into the isolation unit if they show any flu-like symptoms.
Elsewhere in the UK a businessman and his family have been told to stay away from other people after he returned from Mexico with flu-like symptoms, it emerged last night.
Chris Clarke, of Stanwick, Northamptonshire, felt unwell on Saturday.
He said his family have been given medicine and told to stay away from other people as a precaution.
Analysis: Some protection is in place – but impact of this virus is impossible to predict
The news comes as the number of deaths thought to be linked to the virus in Mexico, the suspected source of the outbreak, rose to as many as 81. In the United States 20 cases of swine flu had been confirmed by last night, including a group of children from a New York school. A further six cases have been confirmed in Canada with others suspected in New Zealand, Spain, France and Israel.
The World Health Organisation (WHO) revealed at the weekend that the strain had "pandemic potential" and was of international concern.
Dr Anne Schuchat, of the Centres for Disease Control and Prevention, warned that it might be several months before a suitable vaccine could be developed. She said tests so far showed that the H1N1 component of the seasonal flu vaccine does not protect against the new H1N1 swine flu strain.
Tests conducted on the Scottish couple, which will reveal whether or not they contracted the strain of swine flu causing panic in Mexico, were expected to be completed this morning.
Ministers and senior medical officers urged caution last night and stressed that the two individuals in hospital were not very ill and had not been to any of the affected areas in Mexico.
Nevertheless, First Minister Alex Salmond convened an emergency meeting of senior ministers and health secretary Nicola Sturgeon held talks with her UK counterpart, Alan Johnson, to make sure every possible precaution was being taken to prevent the disease taking hold.
More than 2.5 million doses of anti-viral drugs have already been stockpiled by the Scottish Government, enough to treat half the population.
Ms Sturgeon said: "The Scottish Government, in conjunction with other administrations in the UK, is closely monitoring the situation and assessing the implications, if any, of this situation for Scotland."
The government discussed the situation under the emergency Cobra system last night.
A spokeswoman for the Cabinet Office said that although ministers did not attend they were kept informed. She added: "Cobra has met today. It involved people from different departments who are involved in planning for flu outbreaks, including people from devolved administrations.
"There will be an ongoing discussions and meetings while the threat of flu is there. The situation is also being monitored closely and assessed by the international organisations dealing with the prevention and control of infectious diseases."
The new H1N1 strain of swine flu also contains avian and human genetic material.
The WHO has so far stopped short of declaring the outbreak a pandemic, saying that further information needed to be gathered about the potential of the flu to take hold worldwide.
In Mexico, officials worked to limit the spread of swine flu with schools and public buildings closed and hundreds of public events suspended.
The World Bank has pledged to provide Mexico with more than $200 million (136 million) in loans to help it deal with the outbreak.
And several major US airlines last night announced plans to allow customers to change travel plans to Mexico.
Yesterday, the WHO said the world was better prepared than ever to withstand a potential flu pandemic after five years of gearing up for bird flu. Dr Keiji Fukuda, acting WHO director-general for health security and environment, said the situation around the world was continuing to evolve.
But he said the WHO wanted to collect more information from different countries before deciding to up the pandemic phase. The outbreak is currently at three on a scale of one to six.
Dr Fukuda also revealed that preliminary work had begun to prepare flu viruses to use in a potential swine vaccine. There is currently no vaccine available to protect against the swine flu strain.
Dr Fukuda said the WHO was monitoring the possibility that the swine flu strain could evolve further.
He said there was "no evidence" that swine flu was linked to bioterrorism, after being questioned about US president Barack Obama's recent visit to Mexico.
At a White House briefing yesterday, US officials said they were stepping up their efforts to monitor the situation.
The United States is declaring a public health emergency to deal with swine flu.
It is a precautionary step and does not signal a greater threat to the country, but it does allow the federal and state governments easier access to flu tests and medications.
Dr Richard Besser, acting director of the Centres for Disease Control and Prevention, said all of the US cases have been mild.
So far no deaths have been seen outside Mexico and the cases seen elsewhere appear to be milder.
Some countries in Asia and Latin America have begun screening airport passengers for symptoms.
There are currently no travel restrictions in the UK on people going to or arriving back from Mexico, the Health Protection Agency said. But at Heathrow passengers were kept on a plane from Mexico City for 45 minutes yesterday while they were questioned by health officials investigating the outbreak.
HOW IT KILLS
THOSE who died in Mexico developed pneumonia, an infection causing sacs and smaller airways in the lungs to become inflamed and fill with fluid, restricting oxygen. In serious cases, pneumonia leads to a build-up of fluid round the lungs and severe breathing difficulties. The infection can also spread to other parts of the body, causing blood poisoning.
Mutating virus hard to vaccinate against
What is swine flu?
A contagious respiratory disease of pigs caused by the type A influenza virus. Pigs are hit by regular outbreaks throughout the year, but with higher incidence in autumn and winter. There are many types of swine flu. The current cases involve the H1N1 strain.
How does swine flu spread to humans?
Humans can contract the virus if they have been in close contact with pigs. It is also possible for the constantly changing infection to spread from person to person, which has happened in the latest outbreak. Experts believe it spreads in the same way as seasonal flu – through coughing and sneezing.
What are the symptoms?
The symptoms of swine influenza in people are similar to those of regular human influenza infection and include fever, fatigue, lack of appetite, coughing and sore throat. Some people with swine flu have also reported vomiting and diarrhoea.
How dangerous is swine flu?
As many as 80 people have died and thousands thought to be made ill in Mexico in particular, although milder cases have also been reported in the United States. However, testing has shown that the antiviral drugs oseltamavir (Tamiflu) and zanamivir (Relenza) appear to be effective against the human swine influenza H1N1 strain.
Why should we be worried about it?
The World Health Organisation warned the outbreak had "pandemic potential" and countries are advised to step up surveillance and preparation in case the infection spreads rapidly. Flu viruses change and mutate, making it difficult for drug manufacturers to ensure effective vaccines are available.
The new version of the H1N1 virus is a mix of different animal and human versions of the disease. Mixing can lead to the development of changed viruses to which humans have little immunity.
What is a pandemic?
If the flu spreads over a wide geographic area and affects a large proportion of the population it goes beyond an epidemic and becomes a pandemic. It is defined as a new or novel virus that spreads easily between humans.
What is being done in the UK to prevent the infection?
The Health Protection Agency has advised people to follow general infection control practices and good hygiene to reduce transmission of all viruses, which includes covering nose and mouth when coughing or sneezing, disposing of dirty tissues promptly and carefully, and washing hands frequently.
Reported its first confirmed cases of swine flu on Sunday among a group of students who recently travelled to Mexico. Health officials in the province of Nova Scotia said the six students had now recovered. "It was acquired in Mexico, brought home and spread," said Dr Robert Strang, chief public health officer for Nova Scotia.
20 confirmed cases, including eight New York students. Other possible cases are still being investigated.
The health ministry says three people who returned from a trip from Mexico with flu symptoms are in isolation and being tested.
A top health official told Le Parisien newspaper there are unconfirmed suspicions that two individuals who have just returned from Mexico may be carrying the virus.
Two Scottish patients are in isolation in Lanarkshire with flu-like symptoms but the disease has not been confirmed. Tests also show that a man taken to hospital after landing at Heathrow on a flight from Mexico City does not have swine flu.
There have been 71 deaths, though not all are confirmed as being caused by swine flu. Seven areas are affected, including Mexico City.
Students are among a group which travelled to Mexico and have tested positive for influenza. It is "likely", though not definite, that they are infected with swine flu.
Kissing banned and medics, not bouncers, stand guard at bars as flu epicentre falls eerily silent
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Monday 20 May 2013
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