Wednesday 18 September 2019

Hundreds on jet with swine flu man won't be tested

First Irish victim took flight back from Mexico

Eilish O'Regan Health Correspondent

Hundreds of passengers who shared two flights with the country's first victim of the potentially deadly swine flu will not be tested.

The man caught the virus in Mexico before he returned to Dublin. It took him two flights to get home. The first was a long haul to a major European airport and the second a short flight to Dublin.

However, health officials last night insisted there was no need to trace his fellow passengers on the short flight home as World Health Organisation guidelines say he would have had to be on a plane for more than four hours to pose a risk to others.

The Health Service Executive (HSE) refused to say what flight the man was on, where it came from, or where it landed.

Dr Darina O'Flanagan, head of the Health Protection Surveillance Centre, said if the flight had been longer passengers in his row and those in front and behind him would be tested.

"That would be done if necessary -- it is not required in this case," she said.

Passengers on his earlier flight will also not be tracked down because he was not considered infectious at that stage, she added.

The man, who lives in the east of the country, is believed to be responding to antiviral treatment and is confined to his home until public health doctors give him the all-clear.

A small number of other close contacts will also have to take antiviral treatment as a precaution for 10 days and will have to stay indoors for a week.

The man had recently been in Mexico, the epicentre of the flu which the World Health Organisation fears may turn into a global pandemic.

His test is expected to be positive when the results return from a UK laboratory. His GP visited him within a day of returning home. The man has not returned to work since his return from Mexico. Dr Kevin Kelleher of the HSE said: "The doctor who saw him was fully prepared and gave him Tamiflu before the diagnosis.

"He could see he could potentially have the flu and sent a sample off for testing. The man was advised to stay at home and other contacts were told the same. They have been given Tamiflu but we don't know if they have the disease."


The man is being visited by public health doctors in his home twice a day and is being kept under observation.

The HSE confirmed last night that it would not be distributing any of its stocks of antiviral drugs to hospitals or doctors until a decision is made that the situation warrants it.

It is understood doctors at a major Dublin hospital sought some of the supplies in order to have them in stock for a suspect patient. But a spokesman for the HSE said last night that they did not want the stock unnecessarily depleted in case the situation worsens.

Prof Bill Hall of the UCD virus laboratory, who tested the swine flu sample, said several stages were needed before it could be confirmed as positive and they were working with UK laboratories as part of a network.

Dr Tony Holohon, chief medical officer, said they were now stepping up their preparations in the wake of the WHO decision to raise the alert level.

"A simple message to people is that if they have a cold, always use a tissue if they are coughing or sneezing and dispose of it after single use. People should also wash their hands after sneezing."

The HSE said newspapers, radio and television will carry adverts advising people on how to reduce their risk. A reporting system in place with GPs is designed to alert the authorities to any more suspected cases.

Prof Hall said it was still early days in terms of knowledge about the virus. Some people who were infected were developing severe respiratory disease and needed to be hospitalised.

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