Health Secretary updates MPs on spread and prevention of swine flu
Alan Johnson, the Secretary of State for Health, came to the Commons yesterday evening to update MPs on the outbreak of swine flu.
He confirmed three new cases in the UK, in addition to the two in Scotland announced earlier this week.
“A 41-year-old woman from Redditch and a 22-year-old man in north London have both contracted the virus. The 41-year-old is in isolation at home and has already responded well to treatment. Five of her close contacts have also been treated with antiviral drugs. The 22-year-old man in London has been admitted to hospital.
“The other confirmed case is a 12-year-old girl in Torbay, in Devon. The Health Protection Agency has identified that she has been in close contact with 50 people. As a precaution, antivirals have been given to a total of 230 people in the school—the entire school year. On the advice of the Health Protection Agency, the head teacher is closing the school today. It will be closed for approximately seven days, including the weekend.”
Mr Johnson said all the infected people had recently been to Mexico, the source of the worldwide outbreak, and have mild symptoms.
Mr Johnson said he was taking steps to increase the stockpile of anti-viral drugs such as Tamiflu to cover 80% of the population.
“That does not mean that we expect anywhere near that number of people to be affected.
“It does mean that we will have enough antiviral drugs to treat 50 million people, and make sure that all front-line NHS staff have their own supplies of antivirals as a preparatory measure.” He said he is also increasing stockpiles of antibiotics.
Mr Johnson said there is “no convincing scientific evidence” that the widespread issue of face masks to healthy members of the public can stop the disease from spreading.
“Moreover, they can give false reassurance and encourage people to ignore basic and straightforward hand hygiene measures, which have proved effective.
“However, specialist and other types of face mask are useful for front-line NHS staff who care for infected patients, if the face masks are the appropriate type, worn correctly, changed frequently, removed properly, disposed of safely and used in combination with good hygiene measures.
“Although we have a supply of face masks for NHS staff, we need more. In the past 24 hours, we have completed contracts for more than 60 million masks, which will start to become available this week.
“They will be both surgical and respiratory masks, giving staff a broad range of protection when they come into contact with infected patients.”
Mr Johnson announced a “mass public health campaign” to begin today will use print, TV and radio adverts with advice on how to protect against the spread of the virus.
“In addition, a leaflet will be dropped through people’s doors from next Tuesday, providing information on the steps that they can take to protect themselves from infection, and telling them what to do should they contract the virus.
“From tomorrow, members of the public who want further information will be able to ring a single number, 0800 1 513 513, for regular recorded updates on the situation.
“The threat that we face is serious, but we have never been as prepared for a pandemic as we are now.
“The plans that we have in place are robust and have been thoroughly tested. Scientists know more about flu now than they have ever done.
“When our country last faced the threat of a flu pandemic, in 1968, there was no national plan and most measures that are available today did not exist.
“If a pandemic emerges, no one can turn back the tide, but, with international co-operation, scientific endeavour, effective plans and dedicated front-line staff, we can reduce its impact and ensure that we avoid the level of sickness which was experienced in the three pandemics of the last century. I shall ensure that Parliament is properly updated as the situation develops.”