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Swine flu H1N1 is here, but Northern Ireland is well-prepared

By Victoria O'Hara

The Department of Health said it was “only a matter of time” before the first case of swine flu was confirmed in Northern Ireland — and they were right.

But as Health Minister Michael McGimpsey revealed yesterday that the virus — which has so far spread across 33 countries — has finally come to the province, he also called on the public not to panic.

As medical experts predicted, the first case in Northern Ireland had developed in someone who recently returned from Mexico.

After showing flu-like symptoms the man would have contacted his GP, who would have advised him not to leave his house. A swab would have been taken for testing and sent to the Royal Victoria Hospital and a course of antiviral drugs immediately started.

After it was declared a “probable case” it would have went for further testing in London, where it was confirmed.

Seasonal flu causes 4,000 to 12,000 deaths each year in the UK but virologists say it still remains unclear how strong this strain of the H1N1 infection will be.

But the health professionals have told the public in the last few weeks that what happens now has been in the planning stages for years.

A national campaign promoting hygiene through the television and leaflets has been launched.

And scientists are still working hard to develop a vaccine for swine flu, which they have predicted could take up to six months.

Until that is developed, antivirals are currently being stockpiled under tight security throughout the province to supply 80% of the population.

Mr McGimpsey admitted the possible outbreak could have “widespread implications” across many areas of society.

And planning has involved constant communications with other departments, including the Department of Education and the Department of Agriculture.

“There is a lot of planning, it is like a military operation,” the minster previously told the Belfast Telegraph.

But Mr McGimpsey added: “We have been planning to deal with a potential pandemic for a number of years and this country remains amongst one of the best prepared in the world.”

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