3bn plan for flu pandemic


Nov 2006

A 3bn plan to fight any future flu pandemic over the next three years looks set to be approved by the government.

The plans include stocking up on antibiotics, vaccines, protective masks and antiviral drugs in preparation for a pandemic and any economic disruption, hospitalisations and deaths that could be caused by a mutation of avian flu.

Just over 250 people are known to have been infected by the flu strain H5N1, which has killed 152 people worldwide. But public health experts have predicted it may develop into a pandemic strain causing millions of deaths in the next few years.

Health secretary Patricia Hewitt is now set to look at proposals over coming weeks but will need to consider the implications on resources for current health service operations.

The government is expected to invest for the first time in millions of facemasks for the general public, while healthworkers will have access to more elaborate face protection.

Additional antibiotics will be used to treat any secondary infections that can cause death in people with the flu, while the government will triple its usual supplies of the antiviral drug Tamiflu at a cost of almost half-a-billion pounds.

The plans have been developed using computer modelling, which along with medical measures, other actions like closing schools and keeping people isolated through 'social distancing' would reduce the impact of the disease.

The UK may also follow Finland and Switzerland and order pre-pandemic vaccines for the entire population at a cost of 1bn, although scientists disagree on its worth, as it is based on the current strains of H521 and may not work on later mutations.

The winter is expected to bring migratory birds to Europe that may be infected with H521.