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 Australia: Swine flu looms with the return to school 
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Post Australia: Swine flu looms with the return to school

Swine flu looms with the return to school

Drew Warne-Smith From: The Australian January 16, 2010 12:00AM ... 5820164651?

HEALTH experts are warning that Australians can expect a second wave of swine flu, possibly as early as the beginning of the school year just a fortnight away.

With a new report finding Australia's public health response failed to prevent the H1N1 pandemic last year -- and that mass casualties and a collapse of the health system would have resulted had it not been a benign strain -- the Australian Medical Association has said it is likely swine flu will strike again.

AMA vice-president Steven Hambleton, a member of the national pandemic planning committee, said yesterday it would be difficult to prevent a "second wave" as the virus was again sweeping the northern hemisphere.

It has also overtaken all other strains of the virus as the dominant variety of influenza.

Overseas H1N1 comprises 99 per cent of all flu strains, while in Australia that figure is about 80 per cent.

"We're expecting to reimport the virus and to see people getting sick again," Dr Hambleton said.

"There have been second waves in most countries that had early exposure last year, and with so many people travelling to places like Northern America over Christmas we can expect a second wave too."

Jeremy McAnulty, an epidemiologist with NSW Health, said the virus could strike earlier than the regular winter flu season this year as it had also emerged out of season overseas.

And he warned there was an added risk of it spreading when children returned to school.

"Studies around the world show you get an increase in infections at back-to-school time," Dr McAnulty said.

"Families need to heed the message and get vaccinated."

The doctors' comments came as a paper published in the medical journal Respirology described Australia's public health response to swine flu as a failure and noted that the H1N1 pandemic gained "rapid and widespread entry" into Australia.

"That Australia did not see mass casualties and a complete collapse of the country's health system is attributable to the relatively benign course of the pandemic H1N1 2009 infection, not due to any public health success," co-author Grant Waterer said.

Factors contributing to the failure included the asymptomatic properties of the virus, long screening delays, inadequately trained GPs and communication breakdowns.

However Professor Waterer added that the inability to contain swine flu should not be blamed on government, and neither were resources misspent.

Dr Hambleton said a review of the public health response was needed to ensure such a widespread outbreak did not occur again.

"There has to be a review. If the pandemic lasted another two weeks, our intensive care capacity in this country would have been overwhelmed," he said.

"Imagine if it was severe? In Victoria we'd have had GPs dropping off the perch left, right and centre because they were left without protective equipment early on. And remember the (Pacific Dawn) boat cruise? We let people go home . . . and they started spreading it too."

Something is going to happen, but what?

Fri Jan 15, 2010 11:59 pm
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