A GP today moved to allay fears of people across Northern Ireland over the spread of swine flu amid growing alarm over travel restrictions and conflicting advice handed out to pregnant women.
Dr Brian Dunn, who is chairman of the British Medical Association’s (BMA) Northern Ireland General Practitioners’ Committee, said the threat to people living in the province remains relatively low.
This compares to cities such as Birmingham and London which have seen an explosion in the number of diagnosed cases.
Chief Medical Officer Dr Michael McBride was due today to discuss the present situation in Northern Ireland, where 50 people have so far been diagnosed with having contracted swine flu.
Meanwhile, airlines are taking steps to stop people with swine flu getting on flights, it was confirmed today.
British Airways said there has been a “very small number of cases” where people displaying symptoms of H1N1 had been advised not to travel or check in following advice from medics.
And Virgin Atlantic said people suffering from the condition would not be allowed to fly without a fit-to-fly certificate from their doctor or a hospital, although there had been no cases yet.
Concerns mounted over the weekend regarding the dangers of foreign travel and the risks to pregnant women, however, speaking to the Belfast Telegraph today, Dr Dunn said that the risk of people catching swine flu can be significantly reduced by taking sensible precautions.
“It is important to approach this with common sense,” he said.
“The threat is very low at the moment. We are quite a distance behind England in the number of cases we are seeing, particularly in areas like Birmingham and London where they are absolutely inundated with cases.
“The advice that we are giving to patients at the moment is to be sensible,” the doctor added. “This advice to pregnant women not to travel is extremely difficult. If you have a job then you have to go to work. It’s a matter of being sensible and practical about it.
“For people wanting to travel, the chances of catching swine flu are probably lower in countries like Spain and France than in England so I don’t see why people can’t go on holiday.
“I understand people are concerned about airports and again the advice would be to remain sensible. If you see someone with respiratory problems, don’t sit near them and make sure to wash your hands frequently. If you can’t wash your hands you can always use the alcohol rubs that you can buy in the shops.”
Dr Dunn continued: “The important thing is not to panic. I think a lot of the information about pregnant women and travel hasn’t been very clear and we need to get that message out over the next few days.
“The Department of Health is preparing for the worst, which is the best thing to do, but hopefully the worst will not happen.
Health Secretary Andy Burnham will update MPs on swine flu today following a weekend of confusing signals over advice for high-risk groups.