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 Tourists warned off flu areas

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PostSubject: Tourists warned off flu areas   Mon Apr 27, 2009 3:16 pm

UK tourists have been warned against travel to areas with swine flu by the EU Health Commissioner.

The advice comes after an emergency meeting of European health ministers in response to the outbreak in Mexico.

The Department of Health (DoH) has said surveillance arrangements are being "stepped up" in the UK ready for a possible outbreak.

About 103 people in Mexico are thought to have died after contracting it, but there have been no deaths elsewhere.

EU Health Commissioner Androulla Vassiliou said: "I'd try to avoid non-essential travel to the areas which are reported to be in the centre of the cluster in order to minimise the personal risk and to reduce the potential risk to spread the infection to other people."

Officials said the UK should expect to see an outbreak of the virus, and Health Secretary Alan Johnson is expected to make a statement in the House of Commons on Monday.

The Foreign and Commonwealth Office has issued advice for people travelling to Mexico, saying they should "consult a doctor immediately if they show signs of flu-like symptoms" and avoid "large crowds, shaking hands, kissing people as a greeting, or using the subway".

Agency procedures

The Health Protection Agency (HPA) has a procedure for confirming whether or not a patient has swine flu.

• If a patient rings their GP or NHS Direct to report symptoms, they will be told to stay at home, not to visit a surgery or hospital

• The HPA has prepared an "algorithm" - in essence, a flow chart - for suspected cases. On the phone, or possibly even face to face depending on the circumstances, the patient's GP or NHS Direct will take the patient through the algorithm

• If the answers to the algorithm lead the questioner to believe the patient may have swine flu, a sample will be taken that will then be sent to one of the HPA's network of regional labs for testing

• If the sample is confirmed as influenza type A, it will then be sent to the HPA's Reference Lab at the Centre for Infections in Colindale, where they will carry out genetic typing on it and establish whether it is a confirmed case of swine flu

There have also been cases of swine flu reported in the US and Canada and suspected cases in New Zealand, France, Israel and Australia.

One case has been confirmed in Spain.

However, no-one outside of Mexico has yet died, leading to suggestions that the severity of the cases there may be due to the strain mixing with a second unrelated virus circulating in the community.

Swine flu is usually found in pigs and contracted only by people in contact with the animals.

Contingency plans

The DoH said they could not yet give details of what the "stepped up" surveillance arrangements were and that meetings were ongoing, adding that the outbreak was "unusual and of concern".

A spokeswoman said: "It is too early to make a complete assessment of the health implications of this new virus or if it could represent the appearance of a potential pandemic strain of influenza virus."

Professor Hugh Pennington, a microbiologist who has advised the government on other public health issues, said the country was well-prepared.

He told the BBC that all civil contingency plans were in place, health authorities were ready and well-stocked with Tamiflu anti-flu medicine.

He said: "We are better-prepared than we have ever been before, so I think that's some reassurance for the public."

Professor Steve Field is the chairman of the Royal College of GPs, which heads up research into flu in the UK.

He says the coming days will be crucial in assessing the scale of the threat to the UK if people do contract swine flu.

He said: "We'll know a lot more... tomorrow and by the end of the week.

"What we've got to try and do is stop people who've come in from Mexico, places where this is prevalent, going to their GPs and spreading it amongst vulnerable people. That's what's really important this week."

Britons arriving back in the UK from Mexico said they were questioned by a doctor at Gatwick airport about possible flu symptoms before leaving the aircraft.

But travellers returning to Manchester Airport said they had not been questioned.

Meanwhile, a man from Northamptonshire who was told to stay in his home after returning from Mexico with flu-like symptoms, has been given the all-clear by the Health Protection Agency.

Scottish Health Secretary Nicola Sturgeon said two patients in Airdrie who visited Mexico had both displayed mild flu-like symptoms but there was no cause for concern.

In trading on the London stock market, shares in British Airways were down 7.4% and Thomas Cook fell 4.3% on fears over the economic impact of the swine flu outbreak.

BBC
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