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Swine flu will make annual flu season 'three times as bad'

By Lilian Anekwe

A second wave of swine flu could be ‘three times as bad' as the normal seasonal flu, according to an analysis by a team of leading pandemic outbreak experts.

The warning came as early findings about the emerging threat of the new strain on influenza A H1N1 in Mexico were published.

Researchers from the MRC centre for outreak analysis and modelling at Imperial College London said their modelling data, published in the journal Science, showed the outbreak was consistent with the early stages of a pandemic.

Centre director Professor Neil Ferguson said: ‘This virus really does have full pandemic potential.

‘It's likely to spread round the world in the next six to nine months. Normal flu infects 10% of the world's population every year. Swine flu will infect about a third of the world's population. So it's likely to be three times as bad as the normal flu season.'

But Professor Ferguson, professor of mathematical biology and a member of the World Health Organization's emergency committee for swine flu, added there was ‘still a lot of uncertainty' in the understanding of the new strain of the H1N1 virus, and that his modelling suggested the virus ‘is not as easily transmitted or as lethal as that found in the flu pandemic in 1918.'

The Government is expected to announce in the coming days whether it will instruct pharmaceutical companies to switch from the manufacture of the annual seasonal flu vaccine to a vaccine against swine flu.

Researchers took a major step toward developing a vaccine against swine flu this week, when Health Protection Agency scientists announced they had sequenced the virus' genetic code.

Professor Ferguson said: ‘We really need to be prepared for the autumn. It's likely to cause a really major epidemic. One of the key decisions that needs to be made by world authorities is how far we switch production from the annual flu vaccine to a potential swine flu vaccine. That decision needs to be made very quickly.'

H1N1 virus H1N1 virus

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