British Gov't 'Preparing for Human Flu Pandemic'


The British government is preparing “very seriously” for the remote possibility of a human flu pandemic as officials battle to contain the first avian outbreak in the UK.

Health Secretary Patricia Hewitt spoke out as experts were continuing to cull 159,000 turkeys at a farm in Suffolk where the potentially deadly H5N1 strain, which can be transmitted to humans, was found.

Ms Hewitt said: “We are preparing very, very seriously and thoroughly for the possibility of a pandemic flu.”

She added: “It is a very remote risk but if it did happen it could be very serious indeed.”
The risk to humans posed by Britain’s first outbreak of the potentially deadly H5N1 strain of bird flu on a Bernard Matthews farm at Holton, near Halesworth, is “negligible”. officials have said.

And experts are playing down fears that the highly pathogenic bird flu strain - which has caused the deaths of 164 people in Asia and the Middle East since January 2003 – could ultimately mutate to a type easily passed between people.

However, the Health Secretary told ITV1’s The Sunday Edition that the Department of Health had conducted a massive preparatory exercise last week.

Ms Hewitt said the NHS had its “normal stockpile” of masks for staff but the Government was considering whether it needed to order more.

The Department of Health has also stockpiled enough Tamiflu antivirals to cover a quarter of the population, as advised by scientists.

“We are taking the best possible advice on this,” she insisted.

Yesterday, tests at the European Union laboratory in Weybridge, Surrey, confirmed the avian flu which killed more than 2,000 birds on the farm in Suffolk is the highly pathogenic Asian strain.

The Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs (Defra) has dramatically increased the area where restrictions are in force in East Anglia to control the H5N1 outbreak.

The Restriction Zone, in which poultry must be kept isolated from wild birds and movements must be licensed, covers 2,090 square kilometres (806 square miles) of east Suffolk and south east Norfolk.


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