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US declares 'public health emergency' over swine flu

UK advises coughs and sneezes spread diseases

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Britain's medical system has started gearing up for a flu pandemic and the US has declared a "public health emergency", after it became clear that an outbreak of swine flu in Mexico had worked its way into the human population.

The outbreak in Mexico has been blamed for over 100 deaths. While the disease has now surfaced in the US, there have been no deaths attributed to it there.

The US's Department of Homeland Security secretary, Janet Napolitano, told a press conference yesterday that she had declared a public health emergency, before suggesting "that sounds more severe than really it is."

She said that the declaration kicked the country's federal, state and local agencies into gear, "and allows us to use medication and diagnostic tests that we might not otherwise be able to use, particularly on very young children; and it releases funds for the acquisition of additional antivirals."

Napolitano said the country had already started creating seed stock for possible vaccines.

At the same time, the US has "implemented passive surveillance protocols to screen individuals who may arrive at our borders."

The agency then took journalists' questions, with the most pressing concern apparently being how president Obama was feeling after his recent trip to Mexico.

In the UK, the NHS website says "GPs and hospitals across the UK are preparing for a pandemic and the UK government is working with the WHO to monitor the situation."

More practically, this means "The Health Protection Agency (HPA) is closely monitoring the situation and is working with the UK Government to review the current incident and any threat it poses to the UK. "

It advises anyone returning from an affected area to monitor their health closely for seven days. If during this period they develop a feverish illness, accompanied by one or more of a cough, sore throat, headache or muscle aches, they should stay at home and contact their GP by phone, or seek advice from NHS Direct (0845 4647).

The Health Protection Agency has prescribed a list of sensible advice, including disposing of used tissues, and covering your nose and mouth while sneezing. ®

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