UK on alert over swine flu threat

Britain is on "constant alert" over the threat of deadly swine flu spreading from Mexico, Health Secretary Alan Johnson said today.





Mr Johnson confirmed that a man taken to hospital after arriving at Heathrow on a flight from Mexico City yesterday did not have the H1N1 strain of the virus, which has been blamed for more than 80 deaths in the central American country.

The Health Secretary told BBC1's The Politics Show he had no doubt that there would be more cases of travellers coming into the UK with flu-like symptoms and promised that they will be examined "very, very quickly" by the NHS. But he said that, so far, no cases of swine flu have been confirmed in Britain or the rest of Europe.

The NHS has a stockpile of more than £500 million worth of the Tamiflu anti-viral drug which has proved effective on patients in Mexico, and scientists are working on developing a vaccine against the new strain, said Mr Johnson.

The World Health Organisation rated Britain as one of the two countries best prepared for an outbreak, alongside France.

The global health watchdog today warned countries around the world to look out for unusual flu cases as the outbreak spread to the USA and probably New Zealand, where a group of 10 students is ill after a school trip to Mexico. Israel's Health Ministry has reported one suspected case and France is investigating four possible cases.

A male air steward was taken to hospital yesterday after complaining of flu-like symptoms when he arrived at Heathrow on board a British Airways flight from Mexico City, but laboratory tests at a north London hospital today showed that he does not have swine flu.

WHO director-general Margaret Chan said the outbreak, caused when the H1N1 strain associated with pigs crossed over to the human population, constituted a "public health emergency of international concern".

Nations will be expected to step up reporting and surveillance of the contagious respiratory disease, which she said had "pandemic potential".

Health authorities were monitoring the situation as tests were carried out to assess the potential of the virus to spread.

Mr Johnson told the BBC: "The WHO says that the UK and France are the two best-prepared countries in the world and we have about half a billion pounds worth of the anti-viral which has worked in Mexico.

"The good news from Mexico is that, given anti-virals like Tamiflu early enough, the people who get this recover.

"We have got a whole range of measures in place. The thing that has to happen now is the WHO must give an analysis that shows whether there is a propensity for this to spread.

"We have a stockpile of the drugs and we have an agreement with a manufacturer so as soon as the scientists can find a vaccine, they can produce it."

Mr Johnson ruled out a travel ban to try to prevent the virus being brought to the UK from Mexico by plane.

"That is usually futile and doesn't work at all, and it causes so many other problems that it really is not part of the planning," he said.

The advice for anyone experiencing symptoms including fever and fatigue after travelling abroad was to stay at home and contact the NHS Direct telephone helpline, he said.

"If you have flu-like symptoms, don't go to your GP but stay at home and call NHS Direct... The whole point about these kinds of epidemics is you don't want to spread them and you spread them by going out and mixing with other people."

The UK Health Protection Agency said it was keeping a close eye on the situation.

A spokesman said: "The HPA is monitoring this situation closely and is working with the UK Government to review the current incident and any threat it poses to UK public health."

There was currently a "very low level" of flu activity in the UK, according to the HPA, which added that H1N1 was treatable with antiviral drugs such as Tamiflu and Relenza.

"The HPA and the NHS have systems in place, which will alert public health authorities of any unusual strain circulating in the UK," it said.

Britons are not currently being advised to avoid travelling to affected areas of Mexico and the US, although anyone visiting those destinations or who has recently returned should consult a doctor if they experience flu-like symptoms.

To prevent the spread of illness, the HPA advised people to cover their nose and mouth when coughing or sneezing, to throw away dirty tissues promptly and carefully, and to wash hands and surfaces which are regularly touched.

Scotland's health secretary later revealed that two people have been admitted to a Scottish hospital after returning from Mexico with flu-like symptoms.

Nicola Sturgeon said the pair - who arrived in Scotland on April 21 - had not been in an area affected by recent outbreaks of swine influenza.

She said: "The patients have displayed mild flu-like symptoms and their current condition is not causing concern."

Britons planning to travel to Mexico were warned about the swine flu outbreak there.

The latest advice from the Foreign and Commonwealth Office stated: "Visitors to Mexico should be aware of an outbreak of influenza.

"The Federal Health Ministry issued a nationwide alert on April 22 after learning that a number of people had died from what appears to be a new form of influenza.

"Cases have been reported in Mexico City, together with the states of Oaxaca, San Luis Potosi, Mexicali and Baja California.

"Travellers should consult a doctor immediately if they show signs of flu-like symptoms.

"The Mexican Secretariat of Health has advised people to avoid large crowds, shaking hands, kissing people as a greeting, or using the subway.

"Maintaining a distance of at least six feet from other persons and frequent hand washing may decrease the risk of exposure."

Nicky Paull, president of the British Veterinary Association, said scientists would work together to study the virus.

She told Sky News: "Our role will continue in the background and the ongoing surveillance that we are doing in Europe and particularly in the UK will continue, but certainly from what we are hearing here today it very much now appears to be a human problem.

"We have amazing facilities in the UK, for instance at Weybridge, the laboratories there will be working on this.

"I am sure that the veterinary profession, the scientists if you like, will be working on this alongside the human ones because of the expertise that we will already have in identifying influenza in animals.

"So they will be looking at the fine-tuning and looking exactly at the genetic make-up of these viruses."

Mrs Paull added that eating pork products did not pose a risk, especially if people chose British meat.

"There is always concern because I know during avian influenza there was concern about handling meat," she said. "I am almost certain that there is nothing to be concerned about but where people are concerned, if they go for the quality standard mark they know that's British and we know for sure that in Britain we do not have that problem at this moment in time."

The Government's chief veterinary officer Nigel Gibbens added his reassurances, saying: "There is continual surveillance of pigs in this country and there is currently no evidence of this variant of the disease.

"Swine influenza cannot be transmitted by eating pork products.

"Eating properly handled and cooked pork and pork products is perfectly safe.

"Existing EU rules which prevent imports of all live pigs and pig meat from Mexico into the EU will continue to be upheld."

PROMOTED VIDEO
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
News
ebookA unique anthology of reporting and analysis of a crucial period of history
News
video
Life and Style
tech
Sport
Jodie Stimpson crosses the finishing line to win gold in the women's triathlon
Commonwealth games
Arts and Entertainment
While many films were released, few managed to match the success of James Bond blockbuster 'Skyfall'
film
News
John Barrowman kisses his male “bride” at a mock Gretna Green during the Commonwealth Games opening ceremony
peopleBarrowman's opening ceremony message to Commonwealth countries where he would be sent to prison for being gay
Arts and Entertainment
Jamie Dornan stars as Christian Grey in the Fifty Shades of Grey movie
filmFirst look at Jamie Dornan in Fifty Shades of Grey trailor
Life and Style
Phillips Idowu, Stella McCartney and Jessica Ennis
fashionMcCartney to continue designing Team GB Olympics kit until 2016
Sport
Shinji Kagawa and Reece James celebrate after the latter scores in Manchester United's 7-0 victory over LA Galaxy
football
Sport
Farah returns to the track with something to prove
Commonwealth games
Voices
voicesGood for Lana Del Rey for helping kill that myth, writes Grace Dent
Life and Style
fashion Designs are part of feminist art project by a British student
Arts and Entertainment
The Tour de France peloton rides over a bridge on the Grinton Moor, Yorkshire, earlier this month
film
Independent
Travel Shop
the manor
Up to 70% off luxury travel
on city breaks Find out more
santorini
Up to 70% off luxury travel
on chic beach resorts Find out more
sardina foodie
Up to 70% off luxury travel
on country retreats Find out more
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Independent Dating
and  

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

iJobs Job Widget
iJobs General

Application Support Analyst (SQL, Incident Management, SLAs)

£34000 - £37000 Per Annum + excellent benefits: Clearwater People Solutions Lt...

Developer - WinForms, C#

£280 - £320 per day: Progressive Recruitment: C#, WinForms, Desktop Developmen...

Junior Research Analyst - Recruitment Resourcer

£18000 - £20000 per annum + OTE £25K: SThree: SThree Group has been well estab...

Biomass Sales Consultant

£20000 Per Annum: The Green Recruitment Company: The Green Recruitment Company...

Day In a Page

Screwing your way to the top? Good for Lana Del Rey for helping kill that myth

Screwing your way to the top?

Good for Lana Del Rey for helping kill that myth, says Grace Dent
Will the young Britons fighting in Syria be allowed to return home and resume their lives?

Will Britons fighting in Syria be able to resume their lives?

Tony Blair's Terrorism Act 2006 has made it an offence to take part in military action abroad with a "political, ideological, religious or racial motive"
Beyoncé poses as Rosie the Riveter, the wartime poster girl who became a feminist pin-up

Beyoncé poses as Rosie the Riveter

The wartime poster girl became the ultimate American symbol of female empowerment
The quest to find the perfect pair of earphones: Are custom, 3D printed earbuds the solution?

The quest to find the perfect pair of earphones

Earphones don't fit properly, offer mediocre audio quality and can even be painful. So the quest to design the perfect pair is music to Seth Stevenson's ears
US Army's shooting star: Lt-Col Steven Cole is the man Hollywood calls when it wants to borrow a tank or check a military uniform

Meet the US Army's shooting star

Lt-Col Steven Cole is the man Hollywood calls when it wants to borrow a tank or check a military uniform
Climate change threatens to make the antarctic fur seal extinct

Take a good look while you can

How climate change could wipe out this seal
Should emergency hospital weddings be made easier for the terminally ill?

Farewell, my lovely

Should emergency hospital weddings be made easier?
Man Booker Prize 2014 longlist: Crowdfunded novel nominated for first time

Crowdfunded novel nominated for Booker Prize

Paul Kingsnorth's 'The Wake' is in contention for the prestigious award
Vladimir Putin employs a full-time food taster to ensure his meals aren't poisoned

Vladimir Putin employs a full-time food taster

John Walsh salutes those brave souls who have, throughout history, put their knives on the line
Tour de France effect brings Hollywood blockbusters to Yorkshire

Tour de France effect brings Hollywood blockbusters to Yorkshire

A $25m thriller starring Sam Worthington to be made in God's Own Country
Will The Minerva Project - the first 'elite' American university to be launched in a century - change the face of higher learning?

Will The Minerva Project change the face of higher learning?

The university has no lecture halls, no debating societies, no sports teams and no fraternities. Instead, the 33 students who have made the cut at Minerva, will travel the world and change the face of higher learning
The 10 best pedicure products

Feet treat: 10 best pedicure products

Bags packed and all prepped for holidays, but feet in a state? Get them flip-flop-ready with our pick of the items for a DIY treatment
Commonwealth Games 2014: Great Scots! Planes and pipers welcome in Glasgow's Games

Commonwealth Games 2014

Great Scots! Planes and pipers welcome in Glasgow's Games
Jack Pitt-Brooke: Manchester City and Patrick Vieira make the right stand on racism

Jack Pitt-Brooke

Manchester City and Patrick Vieira make the right stand on racism
How Terry Newton tragedy made iron men seek help to tackle their psychological demons

How Newton tragedy made iron men seek help to tackle their psychological demons

Over a hundred rugby league players have contacted clinic to deal with mental challenges of game