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Britain Rolls Out New Flu Strategy

Containing the H1N1 virus in Britain is no longer an option and the country is moving to a new treatment phase. Health Secretary Andy Burnham outlined the new approach, effective immediately, which includes doctors diagnosing and prescribing medication over the phone to those suspected of having contracted the virus. The disease infection rate is roughly doubling every week in Britain.

The United Kingdom is already experiencing the highest number of swine-flu cases in Europe and that number is expected to grow exponentially now that the virus is firmly entrenched.

Officially, Britain has recorded nearly 8,000 confirmed cases of H1N1, but the real total is thought to be much higher as symptoms for most are mild and they simply go undetected.

Speaking in the House of Commons, Health Secretary Andy Burnham acknowledged that the initial strategy of containing the virus that is believed to have first arrived in April, was no longer a viable option.

"We could see over 100,000 cases per day by the end of August, though I stress this is only a projection," Burnham said.

Since the virus is new, many people have no immunity, so it is spreading rapidly.

Although three people have died of the flu in Britain, most deal easily with the mild symptoms and get over it with or without anti-viral treatment in a few days.

Initially, everyone in Britain who thought they might have picked up swine flu was tested. Those individuals and those close to them were given a course of anti-viral medication.

Now that the number of cases is rising, that overriding strategy is being scrapped.

People who think they might now have the virus are being urged to call their doctor and describe their symptoms over the phone. The doctor or general practitioner can then issue a prescription voucher that a friend of the affected person can pick up.

Andy Burnham says that new approach speeds everything up.

"GPs (general practitioners) will now provide clinical diagnosis of swine flu cases rather than awaiting laboratory test results and primary care trusts will now begin to establish anti-viral collection points where necessary," Burnham said. "This new approach will also mean a move from the daily reported figures of laboratory confirmed cases from the Health Protection Agency to more general estimates of spread."

The move will remove growing pressure on the health system.

Burnham underlines that the virus is not becoming deadlier, only that it is becoming more widespread.

Although there are enough anti-viral drugs for everyone in Britain, some health experts say they should be targeted only at the most vulnerable, because an overuse of the medication could lead to a virus resistance to treatment.