28/04/2009

Swine Flu 'Will Occur' In NI, Says McGimpsey

There will definitely be cases of swine flu occurring in Northern Ireland.

The stark warning was delivered to the Stormont Assembly (pictured) during a second briefing by the NI Health Minister, Michael McGimpsey.

He said: "At this point in time no confirmed cases of swine flu have been found in Northern Ireland," he said, but noted that, as the Chief Medical Officer has already said, "we should expect that there will be cases in due course".

The Minister also reported that the World Health Organisation had changed the 'threat level' for swine influenza from Phase III to Phase IV.

"This has occurred as a result of the evolving global situation and spread of cases of swine influenza," he explained to fellow MLAs.

"WHO Phase 4 means that there is evidence of increased human to human transmission.

"It also indicates a significant increase in risk of a pandemic but does not necessarily mean that a pandemic is inevitable.

"Given the concern about this development, my Department and the Public Health Agency are monitoring this situation extremely closely in order to assess the implications for public health in Northern Ireland.
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"Very close liaison continues with the UK Health Protection Agency and UK Government Departments, particularly Cabinet Office and the Department of Health and also the Department of Health and Children in Dublin.

"I have also spoken to Mary Harney, Minister for Health and Children in Republic Of Ireland," he said, noting that Northern Ireland has "robust plans" in place for this development.

"I have issued contingency plans for hospitals, the Northern Ireland Ambulance Service and Social Care.

"I have also issued urgent advice to GPs and hospital clinicians over the last few days and will continue update them as the situation evolves.

"We will continue to ensure we are prepared and to ensure that the public is protected to the maximum level possible," he said.

He also explained that Northern Ireland has stockpiles of antivirals for a worst case scenario which will cover 50% of the population: "Current evidence suggests that, other than in Mexico, the cases to date have had a mild flu-like illness which responds well to the antivirals we have stockpiled," he said.

He also said that people should consult the Foreign and Commonwealth Office website if they are considering travelling to any affected areas and their current advice is against all but essential travel to Mexico.

Information and advice for travellers will be available at all airports and ports. Our enhanced monitoring and reporting will identify people with symptoms who need to be investigated further.

(BMcC/JM)

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