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BRIEFING ON FLU

Information on flu, particularly on Avian flu and a potential Pandemic Flu, is changing daily and for detailed up to date information it is best to check on the following websites that are updated regularly.
They contain information on flu and what causes it, the potential for an outbreak and common questions and answers.

Ordinary, or seasonal `flu occurs every year during the winter months and can affect up to about 10 per cent of the population. For most people it’s an unpleasant infection, but for the very young and very old, and for people with long-term illness, seasonal ‘flu can be more serious.

Annual vaccination is available for these groups of people who are at risk of serious illness from seasonal flu – that’s the campaign featured on these pages. This routine flu vaccine does not protect against other forms of `flu below.

Bird or avian `flu is currently circulating in some South East Asian countries and lately a few Eastern and Southern European countries. This form of ‘flu, a strain called H5N1, affects poultry and wildfowl, and has also caused the deaths of around 60 people in Asia who have had direct contact with infected birds. It was recently found in a parrot held in a quarantine facility in Essex.

At this time, the avian ‘flu virus cannot cause influenza across a whole population because it is not transmitted person to person.

If avian or another ‘flu changes into an entirely new strain which can spread easily among people, then we may face what’s called an influenza pandemic, affecting most countries in the world.

Pandemic `flu occurred three times in last century. It’s been 37 years since the last pandemic ‘flu, and there is concern there may be another one soon.

Scientists estimate that pandemic ‘flu may affect up to a quarter of the population, and it may be a more serious infection for everyone. Because we don’t yet know what new strain of ‘flu may cause this pandemic, we don’t know what age groups may be affected most, nor can we prepare a vaccine in advance.

When we do know the strain, the Government will start work with the drug industry immediately on developing a vaccine, and will immunise everyone as soon as they can. As another important measure, drugs called antivirals have been ordered in bulk which will help reduce the effects of pandemic ‘flu in people affected.

The Department of Health and the World Health Organisation are monitoring the situation very carefully and contingency plans are being put in to place.

Bird or avian flu, and the safety of food.

Food Standards Agency advice says that the current risk of humans catching the disease comes from being in close contact with poultry that have the disease, and not through eating poultry.

There have been no reports of people handling poultry meat getting infected.

The trade of live and dead birds and products from Romania, Turkey and other affected areas has recently been banned to reduce the risk of the avian flu virus spreading and reaching birds in the UK and other countries.

In Hackney

An Emergency Planning Sub Group has been set up to address the response to a Pandemic Flu Outbreak should one occur. The Director of Public Health (David Sloan) is leading on this and the Group includes representatives of LBH, PCT, Learning Trust, Health Protection agency, Fire Authority and Police.

Environmental Health is keeping an overview of developments on avian flu and would be informed by the HPA, FSA or DEFRA of any significant changes to current advice and able to act. They have drafted an advice article for Hackney Today.


31/10/05

Andrew Foster
Head of Environmental Health
LB Hackney
andrew.foster@hackney.gov.uk
0208 356 4902