Medical staff in Shetland are counselling against complacency over the swine flu outbreak after it was accorded pandemic status this week by the World Health Organisation (WHO).
Director of public health Sarah Taylor said that while there have been no cases of the H1N1 influenza so far it was likely that the isles would be affected at some stage. Shetland Health Board has stockpiles of anti-viral drugs to treat half the population – the number expected to be affected in a pandemic.
There are now more than 300 cases across Scotland and the number is increasing daily. Worldwide, there have been more than 26,000 cases although the number of fatalities has been much lower than initially feared.
Dr Taylor said: “We can not predict when H1N1 influenza might reach Shetland, but in the event of a pandemic it is likely that all areas of the UK including Shetland will be affected at some time. None of us can afford to be complacent about this.”
The board is currently in the “containment phase”, in which all the boards in Scotland are trying to identify and fully investigate all individual cases of swine flu, and put measures in place to prevent and slow down its spread.
A prepared statement from NHS Shetland said: “It is still difficult to predict how the current situation is going to progress. As the numbers of cases rise and there is sustained spread of infection throughout the community, there will come a point where it is not possible to contain the virus and we would concentrate on treating those who are infected and maintaining essential services.”
Meanwhile, the health board urges people to be aware of the symptoms of swine flu, which are similar to those of seasonal flu and include fever, cough, sore throat, runny nose, limb or joint pain and headache. In most cases, the symptoms of this virus have been mild and the vast majority of people affected have been able to stay at home.
Anyone with flu symptoms, especially those recently returned from USA or Mexico, or anyone who thinks they have been in contact with someone with swine flu, should stay at home and telephone their GP or NHS24.
The statement from NHS Shetland continued: “The public health department is working closely with GPs and hospital colleagues to ensure Shetland can cope with any cases that might occur.
“We have had a local Pandemic Flu Plan in place for several years and this is being updated to reflect new information and guidance as it emerges.”