Health authorities were last night still trying to contact every one of more than 150 people on an easyJet flight to Belfast after one of them was confirmed as Northern Ireland's first case of swine flu.
Following speculation that a person in Northern Ireland had contracted the virus, Health Minister Michael McGimpsey yesterday confirmed that a man has tested positive for swine flu.
Mr McGimpsey said the infected man had recently returned from a trip to Mexico.
Efforts began yesterday to contact 151 passengers and crew by telephone who were aboard the easyJet flight the infected man travelled on — the 5.40pm flight between Gatwick and Belfast International on May 7.
While the department refused to give any specific details about the man they did confirm that he was travelling with family members at the time.
Speaking at a Press conference in Belfast yesterday morning, Dr Carolyn Harper of the Public Health Agency also revealed that a school has been informed as a result of the confirmed case but stressed that there will be no implications for the school.
She also said that 25 people — family or community contacts — are currently on antivirals following the positive test results.
Acting chief medical officer Dr Elizabeth Mitchell explained that the man with swine flu first presented to his GP on May 10.
However, as he was not showing a full range of symptoms he was advised to monitor his condition. She said that he returned to a hospital on May 12 when swabs were taken and he began receiving antivirals at that stage. Mr McGimpsey urged calm among the public: “As expected, given the global situation, we have seen our first case of swine flu in Northern Ireland. I am pleased to hear that the patient is responding well to antiviral treatment and I hope he makes a full recovery as soon as possible. People should not be alarmed by this development, we have been planning for a situation like this for some years and are well prepared for any potential pandemic.”
Dr Michael McBride also stressed that the possibility of anyone who was on the same flight as the infected man is at risk of catching swine flu.
“This was a short haul flight so there is a very low risk,” he explained.
Later Mr McGimpsey emphasised that clean hands are the most effective weapon in the fight against all infections as he visited the department’s exhibition stand at the Balmoral Show.
He said: “Good hand hygiene is absolutely essential in reducing infections. The simple act of cleaning your hands must not be underestimated and by just taking a minute to stop and wash you are helping to prevent and control the spread of germs.
“The most common way germs are spread is by people’s hands. Germs are often harmless but they can also cause illnesses such as colds, flu and gastric illnesses.”
More information is available from helpline 0800 0514 142.