Swine flu rise forecast for Ireland

 

Ireland is ‘much more likely’ to see an increase in the incidence of H1N1 swine flu after the UK said it was no longer attempting to contain the virus, a leading health official has warned.

The extent of travel between Ireland and the UK will see an increase in the number of swine flu cases here, the Department of Health’s chief medical officer Dr Tony Holohan said this morning.

Britain’s Health Secretary Andy Burnham said yesterday that the number of new cases could reach 100,000 a day by the end of August. Mr Burnham’s comments came as the British Department of Health stressed that the virus is effectively beyond their control.

So far, there have been 7,447 confirmed cases of swine flu in the UK, but only three people have died.

The shift from containment to mitigation in the UK means that only those suspected of having the virus will now be treated. The NHS will no longer trace people who have come into contact with swine flu carriers.

Ireland has so far seen only 51 cases of swine flu, four cases of which are of people who have not travelled areas afflicted with the virus. There have been no deaths in Ireland so far.

Speaking on RTÉ’s Morning Ireland, Dr Holohan said that Ireland’s strategy has been to contain the spread of the virus in order to build up stocks of anti-viral drugs and equipment.

He said a policy of containment was never going to prevent the virus from spreading in Ireland but was effective in ‘slowing it down’.

However, Dr Holohan said the shift in UK policy from one of containment to treatment of individual cases only was “likely to increase the number of imported cases into this country”.

“Because they are not chasing each individual contact and potential case in the UK it will make it much more likely that people with unknown and undiagnosed illness will come into this country and will act as a source of further infection for here.”

Dr Holohan said Ireland is “very well prepared” by comparison to other European countries.

“We have very high stocks of anti-virals by comparison and in particular we have an arrangement in place that we have access to 7.7 million doses of vaccines once that begins to be produced.”

He said it was possible that a vaccine could become available in about eight weeks time but that licencing could cause further delays.

He called on people to be vigilant if they are travelling abroad and to observe basic preventative measures and to listen to local media messages in whatever country they travel to.