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Norfolk stockpiles swine flu medicine

PUBLISHED: 09:04 01 June 2009 | UPDATED: 09:52 06 July 2010

The Tamiflu swine flu medicine stockpiled in a secret Norfolk location

The Tamiflu swine flu medicine stockpiled in a secret Norfolk location

Boxes of the antiviral drug Tamiflu pack a Norfolk warehouse almost to the ceiling, ready for an outbreak of swine flu. The warehouse, in a secret location in the county, contains 95,000 boxes of the drug, each enough for one person.

Boxes of the antiviral drug Tamiflu pack a Norfolk warehouse almost to the ceiling, ready for an outbreak of swine flu.

The warehouse, in a secret location in the county, contains 95,000 boxes of the drug, each enough for one person. They completely filled a 40-tonne articulated lorry when they arrived.

If there is an outbreak and more is needed, Norfolk can receive up to twice that amount again within days from a national distribution centre.

And health chiefs are ready to open a collection point for the drugs within 24 hours of the outbreak, with three more to follow within 48 hours, and up to 30 more across the county if needed.

But health chiefs are warning that residents must not become complacent and should be prepared for when the disease does strike.

There has still not been an outbreak of swine flu in Norfolk, although there has been one case in Lowestoft. But the risk of new cases is higher this week as people have just returned from half-term holidays to affected countries, particularly Mexico and the United States.

Leading public school Eton is closed this week because of an outbreak, and the Health Protection Agency says there has been “widespread transmission” between pupils at the school.

So far the disease has been similar to normal seasonal flu in severity. But because the elderly have been relatively little affected, the 229 confirmed cases in Britain so far have not caused many complications.

John Battersby, NHS Norfolk's director of public health, said: “There will come a time when we see cases within Norfolk. Our health teams are prepared, and we are working closely and effectively with other agencies, but we need the public to keep themselves aware and to make their own preparations.

“One of the biggest problems we could face is people becoming complacent about swine flu, and thinking that none of these messages relate to them. They relate to all of us. This is not about panic, it's about sensible preparation.”

Most of the cases so far have been in the under-50s, with ages 15-20 the most affected. Few elderly people have caught the disease. Dr Battersby said they would have some immunity developed from being exposed to similar strains in the

past.

He said the Health Protection Agency's modelling suggested the disease would “burn for a long time” with a steady flow of cases, rather than a surge or the disease disappearing altogether.

Taking the Tamiflu delivery posed unusual logistical problems. Dr Battersby said: “We were asking for information about sheer volume and didn't get particularly accurate information. Then it arrived and it was a 40-tonne articulated lorry crammed full. The logistics of moving it around were quite considerable.

“It comes on pallets. A lot of pharmacy doorways aren't designed to take stock on pallets, so it has to be unloaded to get it off.”

If there is an outbreak, the drugs will be collected by “flu friends” of those affected, rather than by the ill person, to avoid spreading it. The first collection centre to open in the county is planned for Norwich and the first in Yarmouth and Waveney is due to be Lowestoft, but health trusts are trying to keep it flexible so they can react to the outbreak as it happens.

Alistair Lipp, director of public health at NHS Yarmouth and Waveney, said: “We are developing plans to respond to increasing numbers of swine flu cases. We hope that won't happen.

“We have stocks of face masks and stocks of antivirals and plans to distribute them. We are training staff to run the centres. GPs are working together and as they get busier they will support each other, and we will support the out-of-hours service too.”

A vaccine is being developed and there are likely to be two immunisation programmes this winter - one for seasonal flu as usual and one for swine flu - which may be targeted at different groups.

People are being asked to choose a “flu friend” who can help if they become ill, and to remember the importance of good hygiene in stopping the disease.

Anyone concerned that they may be displaying swine flu symptoms or have recently come into close contact with someone who has, is advised to stay at home and contact their GP by phone or seek advice from NHS Direct on 0845 4647.

Visit www.norfolk.nhs.uk or www.nhs.uk for more information.

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