Swine Flu: UK on Alert – (some timely advice)

Britain is on alert amid fears that the deadly swine flu that has claimed at least 100 lives in Mexico has spread to this country.

The disease has already spread to the United States and eight children in New York, two people in Kansas and eight more in California have reportedly been infected by the virus.

The World Health Organisation (WHO) has given warning that the highly lethal mutant strain sweeping Mexico could create a global pandemic.

The WHO asked countries around the world to “intensify surveillance for unusual outbreaks of influenza-like illness and severe pneumonia”.

Previous human cases of swine flu have been rare and were usually restricted to people who had direct contact with animals infected by the respiratory condition.

But some of the 100 plus who have died in Mexico were victims of a unique version of the disease – a combination of bird, pig and human viruses, which can be passed from person to person.

The agency described the outbreak as “unusual” and warranting “further investigation and vigilance” by other countries.

The spokesman added: “The NHS has systems in place which will alert public health authorities of any unusual strain circulating in the UK.”

The new vaccine-resistant strain — a previously unseen combination of pig, bird and human viruses — is causing panic in Mexico’s capital, one of the world’s biggest cities and where most of the victims lived.

Most of the victims have been aged 25 to 45. Medical personnel said symptoms began like normal flu, but then victims’ temperatures shot up, with paralysing muscle aches. More than 1,000 people have fallen ill in Mexico with the suspected flu.

The current seasonal flu vaccine is not believed to offer any protection against the new strain, but the anti-viral drug Tamiflu appears to be effective.

Personal Protection

If, as predicted, the disease inevitably arrives in the UK, sensible precautions need to be adopted.

  • Avoid public gatherings e.g. sports and entertainment venues
  • Wash hands before eating, or touching eyes, nose or mouth.
  • Don’t touch your mouth or nose after touching handrails on public transport or public stairs/escalators.
  • Use bacterial wipes regularly on hands.
  • Wash hands after touching anyone else who is sneezing, coughing, blowing their nose, or whose nose is running.
  • Don’t share things like cigarettes, towels, lipstick, toys, or anything else that might be contaminated with respiratory germs.
  • Don’t share food, utensils or beverage containers with others.

Guidance for Businesses

Organisations should establish a policy now to ensure that employees who are ill remain at home to reduce the possibility of spreading the virus throughout the company.

The HSE is recommending that employers advise staff to stay at home if they are sick, and employees who displaying flu-like signs/symptoms should be sent home. Where practicable, working from home should be advocated and video-conferencing or tele-conferencing undertaken where possible.

Staff and office hygiene is particularly important. The HSE says regular cleaning of offices, providing cleaning wipes to staff, and encouraging hand washing will all help reduce the risk/spread of the virus.

Businesses should discuss with critical suppliers their contingency plans and ensure they are complementary.

As the workforce is likely to be depleted, appropriate additional training may be required for any remaining workers who may be required to carry out unfamiliar tasks. Particular care should be given to the redeployment of young workers and pregnant workers. Certain tasks may need to be suspended if there are inadequate numbers of staff. A suitable and sufficient risk assessment should ascertain suitable measures to take to ensure safety.

Some employees may be required/asked to work longer hours, and consideration must be given to the Working Time Regulations 1998 as amended to ensure appropriate length of daytime working hours, night shifts and rest breaks.

The HSE advises that air conditioning systems are not turned off as this may create more static air which may result in discomfort and ill health effects.