20/10/2005

Preparations 'advanced' for pandemic flu

Health Minister Shaun Woodward said preparations for dealing with a possible pandemic flu were "very advanced".

As part of the ongoing preparations for a possible outbreak which is worrying countries across the world, the Northern Ireland Interim Influenza Pandemic Contingency Plan has been updated and re-launched and is available on the DHSSPS website at www.dhsspsni.gov.uk/phealth/pandemic/pandemic_contingency.asp

Commenting on the changes, the Minister said: "My department has drawn up a very comprehensive plan which will link in with the UK's national plan. It contains detailed actions and outlines responsibilities for all the relevant health agencies so that, in the event of a pandemic, the health service will be better able to cope under the increased pressure.

"The threat of a pandemic flu is very real. The spread of avian flu beyond Asia is obviously worrying and has increased fears that the avian flu virus could combine with a human influenza virus to create a virus with pandemic potential.

"A great deal of work has already been done to prepare for a pandemic flu. We are stockpiling anti-virals and, in line with medical advice, will have drugs to treat 25% of the population by September next year.

"Although it is not known yet what exact virus will cause a pandemic, the Department of Health will purchase vaccine, developed from the variant H5N1 strain of flu in south east Asia. This, we are advised, should offer protection to health care staff."

Meanwhile, the Department of Agriculture and Rural Development (DARD) has said that effective biosecurity measures by poultry keepers are vital in protecting Northern Ireland against the introduction of avian influenza.

Speaking on Wednesday, a DARD spokesperson stressed that while the overall risk assessment of Avian Flu occurring in Northern Ireland remained low, it was important that poultry keepers remain vigilant and prepared for any potential disease outbreak.

DARD has banned imports of poultry and poultry products from all affected countries and regions, including Romania and Turkey.

(MB/SP)

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