No other suspect cases, says Holohan


SWINE FLU OUTBREAK:IRELAND IS preparing for a swine flu pandemic even if the mild nature of the disease outside Mexico gives “some cause for hope”, chief medical officer Dr Tony Holohan has said.

A man reported to be in his 20s and from Dublin is the only Irish victim to date and there are no other current suspected cases, Dr Holohan confirmed yesterday.

The man contracted the disease while visiting Mexico, is responding well to treatment and is quarantined at home for a week. The case was confirmed on Saturday evening by the World Health Organisation’s (WHO) central laboratory in London.

Dr Holohan said the authorities were not keeping a tally on suspected cases.

“Those are not important in terms of our management. We are dealing with the problems of confirmed cases, and these require active response that might change things in our level of preparedness.”

Currently, the WHO has classified swine flu as a level five alert, which indicates that the virus has spread throughout communities in at least two countries – in this case Mexico and the United States.

To reach phase six and be classified as a global pandemic, the virus would have to spread from person-to-person in at least one other country in another WHO region, usually another continent.

Mexico has to date confirmed 19 fatalities from the virus with 101 others suspected of having died from the disease.

However, health minister José Angel Cordova said the incidences of the disease and mortality from the H1N1 flu virus was dropping on a daily basis.

To date, only one person outside Mexico has died – a Mexican child who had been visiting relatives in Texas.

Dr Holohan said there was still a possibility that the swine flu outbreak would become a global pandemic because of evidence in three European countries – the UK, Germany and Spain – of people who had contracted the strain without being to Mexico.

“In technical terms the possibility does remain that we could move to a level six situation. That is not something that we are necessarily predicting, but it is clearly something that they are advising us to be prepared for and our preparedness is very much focused on that,” he said at a press briefing yesterday.

Dr Holohan praised the Irish media which, he said, had acted in a responsible manner in not revealing the identity of the Irish victim. It was important that people were not discouraged from coming forward if they suspected that they had contracted the disease.

Prof Bill Hall, the chair of the National Pandemic Influenza Expert Group, said indications that the flu exhibits mild symptoms outside Mexico did not give grounds for complacency.

“We have to be careful. Most of the cases, particularly in Europe, are young people who have travelled to Mexico, and we won’t know for some time what will happen in other populations including the elderly,” he said.

The HSE’s national director of population health, Dr Pat Doorley, said its crisis management teams were meeting on a daily basis on the national and regional level to enhance their preparedness.

He said the HSE was building up stocks of anti-viral medication, but also masks, gloves and gowns.

Last week the HSE said it had enough antiviral drugs in stock to treat almost half the population, and advised people to avoid unnecessary travel to the affected regions.

“As the situation evolves, we will be taking advice from the expert group which advises the Department of Health for what supplies we need,” he said.