Public assured: no sign of flu pandemic

HEALTH officials in Suffolk today assured the public there are no imminent signs of a flu pandemic occurring this winter.

HEALTH officials in Suffolk today assured the public there are no imminent signs of a flu pandemic occurring this winter.

Organisations have been drawing up plans for the past few years which would enable them to cope should an outbreak occur but it is unlikely that they will be put into action in the next few months.

Gillian Brown, a health protection nurse based in the Suffolk office of the region's Health Protection Unit, said: “Flu activity in the UK is still very low so far this winter, although the levels did not start to rise until the early months of last year either.

“Of course, pandemic flu is very different to this seasonal flu and it may not necessarily hit in the winter.

“Whereas seasonal flu tends to hit those who are already vulnerable, pandemic flu is highly contagious and can affect people of all ages.”

She said close monitoring is continually carried out across the UK and across the world and there have been no unusually high reports of flu cases in recent months.

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She said: “You can never say exactly when it will happen however we do have surveillance strategies in this country and across the world.

“This helps to give us an indication but you can never presume anything.”

If a pandemic did strike, the Health Protection Agency predict that up to a quarter of the population could be off work sick, while another quarter would be off looking after them.

Mrs Brown said: “People should think about themselves and how they would cope.

“They should think about things like how they might deal with childcare if schools were to close and make sure they are aware.”

Because of the far-reaching impacts an outbreak could have it is not just health trusts that are planning ahead.

A Flu Pandemic plan was drawn up in the county in 2005 and has input from a range of agencies including Suffolk County Council and Suffolk Fire and Rescue Service.

The plan focuses primarily on how the Primary Care Trust would deliver mass treatment should an outbreak occur, but all other key organisations have also developed plans to ensure they could continue to function if large numbers of their staff were affected.

Matthew Ware, spokesman for the East of England Ambulance Trust, said: “It is estimated that two in five of our staff would be affected and we would ensure only our core activities were carried out.”

Do you think the county could cope with a mass flu outbreak? Write to Your Letters, Evening Star, 30 Lower Brook Street, Ipswich, IP4 1AN, or e-mail eveningstarletters@eveningstar.co.uk>

Pandemics arise when a new strain of the virus emerges which is capable of spreading in the worldwide population. A pandemic can be a mutation of several types of flu, including animal/bird-based flu.

A flu pandemic usually occurs about every 40 years and the last bout was in 1968.

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