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Swine flu pandemic expected by the autumn

A global swine flu pandemic is likely to reach Switzerland by the end of the year with up to 1.5 million people - a quarter of the work force - expected to be infected.

This content was published on July 9, 2009 - 21:24

The Federal Health Office said it had struck a deal with two international pharmaceutical companies for 13 million doses of vaccine to mitigate the impact of the pandemic.

There are about ten new cases of H1N1 infection reported in Switzerland every day and health officials expect the rate to increase markedly after the holiday season.

"Our aim is to protect risk groups, notably babies, pregnant women, the elderly and people suffering from pulmonary deficiencies," said Thomas Zeltner, director of the Federal Health Office, on Thursday.

He called on hospitals and cantonal authorities to prepare for a pandemic and urged the population to observe basic hygiene rules.

"Those who come down with typical symptoms, including fever, should stay at home. We do not want people to go to work if they are sick," Zeltner said.

He added the strategy was no longer to track down imported cases of swine flu, but to try to slow down its spread.

Pandemic

There are currently about 130 confirmed - though mild - cases of swine flu in Switzerland, mostly people who were infected in North and South America.

But the total number of infections is likely to reach up to 1.5 million in winter – or five times more than in the case of seasonal flu, according to the Health Office.

"The pandemic could last about 12 weeks and up to 25 per cent of the working population could be off sick for a limited time," added the health office's Patrick Mathys.

The Swiss health system is ready to deal with the pandemic and the overwhelming majority of flu cases are expected to pass without further complications, according to Zeltner.

The vaccinations, worth SFr84 million ($78 million), could be available by November and would probably be recommended for risk groups, but not be made mandatory. They are supplied by GlaxoSmithKline and Swiss pharmaceutical company, Novartis.

Last month the government also stocked up on antiviral medicines. It acquired 40,000 additional packages of Tamiflu from the Basel-based Roche company.

The World Health Organization in June declared the swine flu as unstoppable. Experts said they were surprised by the fast spread around globe.

Urs Geiser, swissinfo.ch

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