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Is Sweden prepared for a flu pandemic?

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10:45 CET+01:00
Swedish preparedness for a global flu outbreak is "as good as that in other European countries", says Johan Carlson, head of the infectious diseases unit at Socialstyrelsen (the Swedish National Board of Health and Welfare).

Next week the board will present the Swedish government with a plan to suggest what action Sweden needs to take to prepare for a global epidemic.

Although the plan will address a global influensa pandemic of a general nature, increasing concerns have been expressed around the world that the asian bird flu, which has now been transmitted from animals to humans, and from humans to humans, is a prime candidate.

The World Health Organization warns that this modern version of the Black Death could kill 100 million people if the virus mutated into a form that could pass easily between humans.

It is clear that Sweden will need to allocate several million crowns to prepare a stock of antiviral medication and antibiotics. Earlier this year EU health inspectors announced that they will test national governments to see how they cope with any outbreak of the virus and stop it from harming humans and animals.

In an interview with Dagens Medicin Johan Carlson was not prepared to comment on the size or content of the stock of medication that he will be advising the government to purchase.

"That all depends on the national plan," he said. "But the government will have to react pretty quickly if it wants to place large orders."

Earlier this week several news organisations around the world reported that Chinese scientists have developed a new bird flu vaccine for poultry and mammals. But an effective human vaccine against the bird flu is still some way off.

Socialstyrelsen has been critized for its tardiness in presenting a plan. In the light of ongoing criticism of Sweden's handling of the Tsunami disaster, there are grave concerns in medical circles about the central government's preparedness should a 'flu pandemic become a reality.

However, Johan Carlson says that Sweden is as well prepared as other European countries.

"We have been part of a European consultation and there are even a number of countries that are slightly behind," he told Dagens Medicin.

"Most are in the same phase as we are, and some have started ordering the antiviral medications that can assist if an epidemic occurs."

Asked whether there was a risk that Sweden would be too late in ordering its stock of medications Carlon replied that there are not that many vaccines being produced.

"It's more likely that countries will not order enough of the vaccine to keep their options open. There is less faith in the antivirals now than there was before, and they don't want to be locked into large investments."

Sources: Dagens Medicin, BBC News, Reuters, Newstarget

Lysanne Sizoo

Lysanne Sizoo is a certified Counsellor, specialising in bereavement, fertility and cultural assimilation issues. She also runs a support and discussion group for English speaking women. You can contact her on sizoo@swipnet.se, or 08 717 3769. More information on www.sizoo.nu.

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