Swine flu 'not out of control'
Updated on 02 July 2009
The government says the swine flu virus can no longer be contained as the number of new cases could rise to 100,000 a day by the end of next month.
Health Secretary Andy Burnham said the strategy for dealing with the outbreak would now concentrate on treating people who catch it, with antiviral drugs targeted on the most vulnerable.
There are already almost 7,500 confirmed cases in Britain, but health chiefs insisted the disease is not out of control.
The government's chief medical officer, Sir Liam Donaldson, told Channel 4 News that authorities had predicted that cases of swine flu would increase, but in the autumn.
"In a pandemic of flu, large numbers of people are encountering a new virus," he said. "They have no natural immunity to it, so it spread much, much more quickly."
'A matter of when'
"Also, it is attacking younger age groups, not simply the elderly, and so as they are a very large group in the population, it is going to spread rapidly at some point. It is just a matter of when."
On the suggestion that the UK was more affected than anywhere else in Europe, he said: "We have been very aggressively managing it so far and we have been looking for cases. Some of the surveillance systems in other countries are not as good as ours, so some of the numbers that we are seeing in the UK are as a result of better detection."
He said someone with swine flu would usually be ill for five to seven days and then would make a complete recovery, but that "in a minority of cases people would go on to serious complications".
Sir Liam confirmed that there could be between 500,000 and 1 million members of the UK workforce off at any one time. "We have been planning for several years for this eventuality, and it has included not just the health side, but also looking at business continuity and keeping essential services going.
"There is no sign of the virus becoming more virulent. We are just going to see much more of it. Needless to say, it could change. Flu viruses are capable of that. But what we are facing is much greater numbers of a similar condition to the one that has been around over the last few months."
He did say that pregnant women are more at risk from the virus. "If somebody is pregnant and thinks they have swine flu, then they are one of the groups that should see their doctor quickly."
On the vaccine expected at the end of August, Sir Liam said: "We will be one of the first countries to get the vaccine, but we will need to prioritise [who gets it] because it won't all come at once. People with underlying illness, pregnant women and front-line healthcare workers will be the priorities."
100,000 new cases per day
Speaking at a press conference earlier, Health Secretary Andy Burnham said it was not yet known what the cost of tackling swine flu would be.
He also told the House of Commons there could be over 100,000 new cases of swine flu per day by the end of August.
Highlighting the government's "treatment phase", Burnham said contracts had been signed for enough vaccine to cover the whole population, the first becoming available next month with 60 million doses available by the end of the year.
The move indicates the government no longer believes the virus can be contained.
"The level of cases is still relatively low," the health secretary said.
"The important thing is to move into the phase where we make all of our preparations to deal with a time when the number of cases could potentially rise.
"We are well served by our advanced purchase agreement of vaccine... vaccine will begin to arrive as of next month and we should take delivery of 60 million doses by the end of the year. That is enough to treat half of the population - 30 million people."
Meanwhile, Britons on a charity trip to Kenya have tested positive for the disease. The number of those affected has not been confirmed, but the Foreign Office says the group is being kept in isolation.
They are thought to be students from Nottingham University on a medical field trip to the western African nation.
Since Friday, 1,604 swine flu cases have been confirmed in England, taking the country's total to 4,968 and the UK's total so far to 5,937.
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