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Swiss get ready for human flu pandemic

Vaccines against standard flu strains exist, but so far there is none for avian influenza Keystone

The Swiss government is preparing itself for an expected influenza epidemic by issuing new guidelines.

This content was published on April 27, 2005 - 14:19

The announcement comes at a time when the authorities are revamping their emergency health services. The closure of hospitals and fewer medical personnel means that new ways of responding to threats have to be found.

With restricted finances and changes to their mission, civilian and military specialists will be expected to cooperate more closely in the future.

The government has pledged to draw up an action plan, which will be regularly adapted to the World Health Organization’s (WHO) recommendations.

The international body is warning that a human flu pandemic is on the cards in the not-so-distant future.

Actions

In the event of an outbreak on Swiss soil, the cabinet will keep the upper hand on operations dealing with an outbreak.

The government will announce the beginning and the official end to an epidemic and will be advised by a team of specialists.

The action plan will determine who receives medical treatment first.

Health-care personnel, people working in essential services such as transport or the army, and those with a high risk of mortality should be among the first recipients of medications.

The plan will also contain recommendations on how to prevent the spread of the disease, to disseminate important information, to run a vaccination campaign and guarantee medical supplies.

The Federal Health Office is also expected to take measures to ensure proper supply of medications and vaccines. Cantons could also force hospitals to stock these.

The government can also place restrictions on – or even ban – exports of some products. The federal authorities will pay for the purchase of vaccines but cantons will have to foot the bill for distribution costs.

Worst scenario

Switzerland fell victim to the last major worldwide pandemic in 1918.

The Spanish flu pandemic - the biggest pandemic known to man so far with up to 50 million deaths around the world – killed 25,000 Swiss and a quarter of the population fell ill.

If this were to happen again, the Health Office estimated recently that there could be 42,000 deaths in a "worst-case scenario". In addition, there would be two million medical consultations and 14,000 cases of hospitalisation.

Currently, strains of avian flu are believed to present the biggest threat to mankind.

The WHO has warned that the recent outbreaks in Southeast Asia showed a more deadly strain of bird flu than the one originally detected in Hong Kong in 1997.

Experts say, though, that the virus could kill even more people if it mutates into a form easily transmitted among humans.

swissinfo with agencies

Key facts

Each year, up to 300,000 Swiss suffer from the flu.
People over the age of 60 represent 10% of cases.
15% of these patients come down with pneumonia.
Influenza accounts for 420 deaths per year in Switzerland, 90% per cent in the over-60s age group.
Only 10% of the population is vaccinated.
It was estimated in 2001 that 48% of senior citizens were vaccinated.

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