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Health Official Says Swine Flu Has Peaked, for Now, in Britain


The chief medical officer in Britain says it looks as though the swine flu outbreak may have plateaued in England for now. At least 27 people have died of the disease and the government is continuing its preparations for a possible resurgence in the fall flu season.

The number of Swine Flu cases in England seems to have plateaued for now.

"We expect that to last a little bit longer, but then in the fall and winter we will see a very big surge, as we have seen in previous pandemics," Britain's Chief Medical Officer Liam Donaldson told VOA.

But, he says, more cases later in the year does not mean that England is not handling the outbreak well.

"I don't think anyone has the disease under control because the virus can spread rapidly, but what we're seeing so far is a pretty stable position as far as the virus is concerned, it's producing relatively mild illness in most people, but in a small proportion it's causing serious problems and we have in place the plans in our health care system to deal with those problems," Donaldson said.

About 100,000 new cases have been appearing every week in England, but officials say that is fewer than had been predicted. To slow the spread of the virus and relieve the strain on the country's health system, the government has set up a national pandemic flu service, where people who suspect they're infected can get a diagnosis and prescription for antiviral drugs over the phone or Internet.

"That keeps pressure off the general practitioners, the primary care physicians, and the hospital doctors. So we've strong plans in place, but we're continuing to work on them with the pinnacle of our work, getting the right vaccine in place to be able to give definitive protection to people," Donaldson said.

Donaldson says Britain has been planning for a pandemic for about five years, after a scare with bird flu in 2003. So the country will be one of the first to get a vaccine - because of existing arrangements with drug companies.

"We will get some vaccine at the beginning of the fall - we won't be able to vaccinate everybody initially, so we'll be identifying priority groups, but because we had advance contracts for vaccine we'll get very big supplies through the fall and winter," he said.

That is the normal flu season and is expected to be worse than usual this year. The government has even explored the possibility of closing schools to stem the spread of the virus. The chief medical officer says that now looks unlikely because it would be too disruptive.

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