There aren\’t enough anti-viral drugs to combat a potential global swine flu pandemic, with local stocks sufficient to cover just over one third of the population, a drug company executive says.
Australia moved yesterday into the next phase of its response to the outbreak, as the five people in NSW, including children, are suspected of having the virus.
Test results are due by week\’s end. Swine flu, which is believed to be a mutation of swine, avian and human flu, has so far killed more than 100 people in Mexico and infected 1,614 in the central American country.
It also has infected 20 people in five American states and several more in Canada.
Swabs from 10 Auckland high school students, believed to have contracted the virus on a Spanish language trip to Mexico City, are due to arrive in Melbourne on Tuesday for testing at a World Health Organisation (WHO) accredited laboratory.
Four Queenslanders feared to have been infected have been given the all clear. Australia\’s chief medical officer Jim Bishop says it\’s inevitable swine flu will eventually reach our shores.
“We don\’t have confirmed cases in Australia but I think there will be probably some cases in the future,” he told Sky News on Monday.
The health department learnt of the swine flu last Friday. The federal government did not enforce screening at airports until midnight (AEST) Monday.
Airlines must report any passengers with flu-like symptoms aboard planes into Australia from North or South America before being allowed to land.
The Transport Workers Union (TWU) wants an urgent meeting with Qantas and other airlines to discuss what systems are in place to protect staff.
Federal Health Minister Nicola Roxon is urging people who have travelled to Mexico or the Americas in the last two to three weeks and who have flu-like symptoms to immediately visit their doctor.
The health department has set up a swine flu hotline – 180 2007. Australia has stockpiled 8.7 million doses of the Tamiflu and Relenza drugs, which are believed to be effective in treating the virus. Ms Roxon said Australia\’s stockpile has one of the highest population ratios in the world.
“The aim if there is a pandemic – which has not yet been declared in this instance – is to make sure you can protect enough of the population that the spread through the population is stopped,” she told ABC Television. “
We are confident that we do have sufficient in our stockpile to do that.” Peter Cook, the head of the Melbourne company that developed Relenza, Biota, said events such as this outbreak often prompt governments to check their preparedness for a pandemic.
“It reminds everybody that the world\’s inventory of these products, even though they\’re fairly large in dollar terms, are still inadequate for management of a full-blown global pandemic,” he told AAP on Monday.
The company\’s shares closed up 71 cents, or 81.61 per cent, on Monday – at $1.58. GlaxoSmithKline, which produces Relenza in Melbourne, France and the US, will boost production by about five million doses in Australia over the next three months.
General manager Deborah Waterhouse said the company would be putting on up to 30 extra staff to meet increased demand. Public health expert, NSW Professor of Infectious Diseases Epidemiology Raina MacIntyre, says the situation is serious enough for Australians to wear a face mask.
“Any time from now, people who are in crowded situations, caring for sick people either as healthcare workers or in their own families, travelling on public transport, (they) should wear a mask,” she told AAP.
The swine flu has struck down otherwise healthy, young people and is believed to have been transmitted from human to human.
Symptoms are much like those of regular human flu, including fever, cough, sore throat, body aches, headache, chills and fatigue.
Travellers on flights entering Australia from the Americas suspected of having swine flu will be assessed and given medical advice and possibly masks, Ms Roxon said. Their families may also be isolated, she said.