Two more swine flu cases contracted within State


TWO FURTHER cases of swine flu, both picked up within the State, were confirmed by the Department of Health yesterday.

This brings the total number of cases confirmed in the Republic to 146 – a day after the State’s chief medical officer Dr Tony Holohan predicted the virus could infect one million people here as it spreads later in the year.

From today the strategy adopted by the Department of Health and the Health Service Executive to contain the spread of the influenza A(H1N1) virus will change because they believe preventing its spread is no longer an option. Instead, the focus will be on treating cases based on their symptoms as they arise and there will no longer be a need for all cases to be laboratory-confirmed.

The State has ordered 7.7 million doses of the vaccine which is being developed against the new virus, and while it was expected the first batches of it would be delivered at the end of August, doubt has now been cast on this timescale by WHO director general Dr Margaret Chan.

She said while a vaccine should be available in August, clinical trials would be needed to ensure it was safe. “Clinical trial data will not be available for another two to three months,” she said.

The HSE has paid €41.5 million upfront for the vaccines from three drug firms – GlaxoSmith-Kline, Baxter Healthcare and Allphar Services – and it will pay about as much more when they are delivered.

The Irish Medical Organisation will meet the Department of Health and the HSE next week to discuss plans for the pandemic.

Its former president Dr Martin Daly, a GP, said the pandemic would place unprecedented demands on the health service. “GPs will be ready to respond in a responsible manner in this crisis. There is ongoing contact with the Department of Health and the HSE, and another meeting is imminent to review what is an evolving situation,” he said.

“There will need to be a flexible approach so all citizens of the State will be able to access treatment, prophylaxis and vaccines, and that will require a menu of options. We hope those avenues will be clearly delineated following our meeting with the HSE and the Department of Health,” he added.

Yesterday, the fathers of two 16-year-old Dublin boys who are recovering from swine flu after feeling ill as they returned from a Budget Travel holiday in Ibiza at the weekend told Liveline they felt more information should be given to the public about the virus. One said other passengers on the flight were not informed, while his wife, who works with older people, had not been told to stay away in case she spread it to them.

A caller from Kilkenny said her entire family of four and a friend had tested positive after returning from the same Zodiac apartment block in Ibiza last month. Budget Travel said it would review whether it should tell people booking holidays to the area of the fact swine flu had been contracted by people who travelled there.

The HSE said it was confident best public health guidelines were followed when people returned from abroad with the virus. “Contact tracing is guided by strict public health protocols in line with guidance from WHO,” it said.

Swine flu: advice to the public

The Department of Health is not advising people to postpone travelling abroad on holidays, or on business, to any area even to regions where swine flu has become endemic.

But it recommends that those in high risk categories such as those with chronic conditions such as diabetes, lung or heart disease as well as the elderly, pregnant women or children under 2 years, should discuss the risk of travel with their doctor before deciding to depart.

For those staying at home, if you develop symptoms of swine flu – which are similar to those of the seasonal flu but may also include diarrhoea or vomiting – you should contact your GP by telephone for advice.

People with mild symptoms will be told to stay at home and take hot drinks and paracetamol. Those with more severe symptoms will be prescribed antiviral drugs like Tamiflu and they will be free.

In general the advice is to avoid close contact with people who have fever, sneezing or cough.

If you have symptoms cover your nose and mouth with a tissue when coughing or sneezing and bin your tissue immediately afterwards and wash your hands. Frequent and thorough handwashing with soap and water is advised for all, to try and prevent the virus spreading.

Wearing a mask may be protective for those caring for someone with influenza, but they are not advised for general use or for air travel.