Britain, major travel hub, hard hit by flu pandemic

Thu Jul 23, 2009 1:06pm EDT
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By Kate Kelland

LONDON (Reuters) - The global H1N1 flu pandemic is hitting Britain harder than other European countries, mainly because Britain is a hub for international travel and communications, health experts said on Thursday.

Some 31 people have died in Britain from the virus, compared with only four in Spain and none in the rest of the European Union, but experts warn that the H1N1 flu wave now hitting Britain is likely to sweep through other countries soon.

In the past week 100,000 suspected new cases of the flu have been reported in Britain, the government said, nearly double the 55,000 suspected new cases in the previous week.

Other European countries should prepare for a similar, or even larger, surge in the number of cases in the coming months, said Professor Angus Nicholl of the European Center for Disease Prevention and Control in Stockholm.

"Look at the UK. This is what you are going to have to face later in the year, but with a lot more cases than the UK is seeing at the moment," Nicholl told Reuters.

The British government launched a National Flu Pandemic Service on Thursday to speed up access to drugs for flu sufferers, who will be able to get diagnosis and prescriptions online and by telephone.

According to figures released by the ECDC earlier this week, there are almost 18,000 confirmed cases of H1N1 A flu in the 31 countries in the European Union and the European Free Trade Association -- almost 11,000 of them in Britain.

Health authorities in some of the hardest hit areas of Britain such as London and the central city of Birmingham say doctors are being overwhelmed, with hundreds of calls a day from worried patients. Churches and schools have changed their routines to combat the spread of the disease.   Continued...