Call for calm as virus no more dangerous than conventional flu

HEALTH experts have urged calm over the swine flu outbreak, saying if it does spread to Ireland, it will be no more dangerous than conventional flu.

Patrick Wall, professor of public health at University College Dublin, said the flu vaccine administered here last winter might offer some protection and the new vaccine batch being developed for next winter would specifically protect against the so-called swine variety.

In the meantime, he said the traditional flu season has almost passed with the arrival of warmer weather.

And while he would not be surprised if cases of swine flu emerged here, he did see cause for alarm.

“In the past, we have had huge pandemics of flu that caused a lot of deaths. [But] in the past we did not have the anti-viral drugs that we have now. We didn’t have the vaccines that we have now,” he told RTÉ Radio.

Prof Wall said the name ‘swine flu’ was misleading as, although the disease had links to a strain of flu that also infected pigs, the current outbreak was spread from human to human like conventional flu, through the usual means of coughs and sneezes.

“We are going to have to have a bit of calm about this in the sense that it’s a flu virus — it’s no more virulent than the conventional flu virus,” he said. He said people tended to forget that the conventional flu caused deaths every year, mainly in the elderly and frail people who had underlying medical problems or who went on to develop pneumonia.

“Every year in the US over 36,000 people die from flu. People have been asking me should I wear a mask.

“I ask them did they wear a mask last winter?”

Professor Cliona O’Farrelly, an immunologist at Trinity College Dublin, said people should not be excessively worried about the outbreak and the fact that all the deaths related to the flu had so far been confined to Mexico was positive.

“It seems to me that the disease has been quite mild in other countries. Nobody outside of Mexico has died.

“So the question is being asked has the virus changed already so that it’s not so virulent or is there something that makes Mexicans particularly susceptible to it?”

Prof O’Farrelly, who is organising a public information session on the outbreak at Trinity’s Science Gallery tomorrow, said lessons learned from the avian flu and SARS meant health authorities responded quickly this time and what they learned from this episode would help with more serious outbreaks in future.

The free information session at the Science Gallery, Pearse Street, Dublin 2, is at 12 noon and experts will be on hand to explain the background to the outbreak and its implications.

See www.sciencegallery.com


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