Swine flu could effectively make its last stand in the UK within weeks, the British Government’s chief scientific adviser said today.
Professor John Bennington said a second wave of infections was expected “not much before October at the earliest”.
Thereafter research and epidemic modelling suggested the virus would be weakened.
“You can get infections coming back in a number of waves but it’s likely that the next one will be larger than any subsequent ones,” Prof Bennington told the British Science Festival at the University of Surrey.
Tomorrow, members of the Scientific Pandemic Influenza Advisory Committee (Spi), which advises the British government on flu pandemics, will meet for a swine flu update.
“What is likely to happen will depend on a number of things, firstly the number of unreported cases,” said Prof Bennington, speaking in Guildford, Surrey.
“Whether it comes in October early and at a fairly high level, or in more moderate waves later in the year, is hard to predict.”
Long term, the fate of the virus would depend on how it competed with normal seasonal flu, he said.
It was possible swine flu might become the new “default” seasonal flu.
“There may be some quiescence of incidence in summer next year after which it could come back as a normal seasonal flu; we don’t know, it’s early days,” said Prof Bennington.
He defended the decision to mass-treat large numbers of the population with antiviral drugs. Around 450,000 doses of the drug Tamiflu have been distributed, 10 times the number of confirmed flu cases.
“I think there are really sensible pragmatic issues involved, particularly to do with being precautionary,” said Prof Bennington.
“It’s a perfectly reasonable position to say ’put this out, make it freely available’, when you balance the potential for side effects from Tamiflu against the potential for getting flu really badly.”
Nevertheless, he said, there was disagreement among the Government advisers about whether to mass-treat the population or just target high risk groups. In the end the vote was won by those wanting to take a more precautionary stance.
“I did agree with the majority view,” Prof Bennington added.