First probable case of swine flu reported in Ireland

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The first probable case of swine flu in Ireland was reported this evening.

At a press briefing in Government Buildings, the chief medical officer at the Department of Health Dr Tony Holohan said tests were carried out on a man living in the east of the country who had recently returned from Mexico, where at least 176 people have died of the H1N1 swine flu virus.

"We have one case which is categorised as probable. This case is associated with recent travel to Mexico," Dr Holohan said. “The person is being treated in accordance with WHO protocols.”

Professor Bill Hall, chairman of Ireland’s National Pandemic Influenza Expert Group, said the case was "likely to be positive" when the test results return from the UK.

Dr Holohan said it was unsurprising that a case of the virus would surface in Ireland and it had been widely predicted.

The man had originally arrived on a long-haul flight in an airport outside Ireland and then transferred to Dublin. He was not considered a health risk at the time and the passengers on the short-haul flight into Ireland were not quarantined.

Under World Health Organisation guidelines, passengers only have to be quarantined if they have shared a flight with suspected carrier of a virus for over four hours.

The man went to see his doctor within a day of arriving back in Ireland and was treated with Tamiflu. He did not return to work and is now in isolation in his home receiving antiviral treatment.

Dr Kevin Kelleher, the HSE’s head of health protection, said the man has been advised to stay at home. “The person concerned clearly had flu-like symptoms,” he said. “The treatment started before we had any diagnosis, so that was very important in the circumstances.

“The person was deemed well enough so he could return to his home and has been advised to stay in his home until we are in contact.”

Anyone who has been in contact with him have been asked to stay at home for a week and take medication for 10 days.

Efforts are underway to trace anybody the man may have been in contact with since he arrived home. They will also be offered treatment.

Dr Kelleher asked the media not to “hound” the man, as this could discourage other people concerned they may be suffering from symptoms from coming forward to the authorities.

Minister for Health Mary Harney said “people shouldn’t panic”.  She said the Government was “hoping for the best but prepared for the worst” and she was confident there were more than enough supplie of antiviral medication to cover the population.

Dr Holohan also reiterated advice to the public to dispose of tissues and wash their hands after coughing or sneezing. “Those simple measures by individuals can help reduce the risk of transmission from person to person,” he said.

If confirmed, it would be the first definite case of the virus in Ireland. Tests for the virus on four Irish people who recently returned from overseas proved negative earlier this week.

The HSE is preparing a leaflet for all homes in case of an outbreak. The HSE said the leaflet would give details on how to deal with someone if they were suspected of contracting the condition and it would be up to the Government when and if to distribute it.

Fine Gael’s health spokesman Dr James Reilly said tonight the public must be kept fully informed of the risks and precautions they can take. “The important thing now is to try to isolate this case and to be prepared for any further cases. A lack of information leads to fear and keeping the public up to date will be key to maintaining calm,” Dr Reilly said.

The Labour Party’s Mary Upton called on the HSE to immediately set up a flu hotline to reassure people who might have reason to have concerns about their health. “The HSE must also provide specific instruction to people as to how they can minimise the risk of infection and how to respond if they do indeed become infected,” she said.

Two suspected cases of swine flu are currently being investigated in the North while 11 others have been given the all clear. Northern Ireland Health Minister Michael McGimpsey said his department would “maintain the strictest surveillance and monitoring”.

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