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Independents' Day

Virus experts say swine flu 'less deadly than first thought'

By Nigel Praities

Swine flu appears less deadly than first thought, but the low number of cases so far does not preclude from there being a surge in the coming weeks or in the autumn, infectious disease experts have told Pulse.

The virus has been sequenced by Scottish scientists at the Interdisciplinary Centre for Human and Avian Influenza Research, who have discovered it is composed of North American and Eurasian swine flu viruses.

Professor Richard Elliott, professor of Virology at the Centre for Biomolecular Sciences, University of St Andrews, said it was too early to say if a pandemic was imminent.

‘The next two weeks are crucial. We will see if the number of cases sky-rocket or it just peters out. If the number of cases shoots up in the next few days I would be concerned,' he said.

Professor Kin-Chow Chang, professor of veterinary molecular medicine at the University of Birmingham, said Health Protection Agency scientists were warning the virus presented more of a risk than conventional H1N1 subtypes.

‘It appears this variant is more virulent than your usual winter influenza H1N1 viruses that infect the human population,' he said.

‘It's only in the past few days it has become headline news, but for all we know it could have been circulating for the past 12 months, so it is building up to a head of steam. A pandemic is likely in my opinion.'

Dr Maureen Baker, honorary secretary of the RCGP, said even if a pandemic did not materialise the new strain could worsen the seasonal outbreaks experienced every year.

‘When a brand new strain emerges there is no resistance and new strains may emerge related to the pandemic one and could be around for 20 to 40 years,' she said.

Dr Margaret Chan, director general of the World Health Organisation, warned against overconfidence.

‘Flu viruses are very unpredictable, very deceptive,' she said. ‘No one can predict what is going to happen when countries in the south have flu peaks and this new one arrives - which it is going to do, without a doubt.

‘We hope it fizzles out because if it doesn't we are heading for a big outbreak.'

Swine flu: strain appears less deadly than first thought

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