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Red Cross ready to respond to swine flu

1 May 2009

Two Red Cross ambulance crew members swiftly exit an ambulance© InfoThe British Red Cross has announced it is ready to respond if there is a large-scale outbreak of swine flu, a respiratory disease thought to pass from human to human through sneezing and coughing.Margaret Lally, interim director of UK operations, explained: “We already work very closely with the statutory emergency response services and health and social care providers. This includes providing a wide range of services to people at home, as well as first aid and support to the ambulance service. 

“We have already developed plans to adapt and extend our services to support the public if there is an outbreak. For example, if housebound people needed medication to combat swine flu and had no one to pick it up for them, our care in the home volunteers may be able to deliver it. We could also provide volunteer ambulance drivers if the statutory services were stretched.

“We’re in close contact with the statutory services and several of our managers across the country have been invited to meet with local resilience forums over the next few days to review the situation and how we can help.”

Health advice

Missin Image© InfoThe Department of Health’s website is advising people to monitor their health closely for seven days after visiting an affected area.The website states: “If during this period they develop a feverish illness accompanied by one or more of a cough, sore throat, headache or muscle aches, they should stay at home and contact their GP by phone or seek advice from NHS Direct (0845 4647).”

International response

On 1 May, the World Health Organisation reported that there had been 2,955 suspected cases and 260 confirmed cases of swine flu in Mexico, where the outbreak started. There have been 168 deaths in Mexico (12 confirmed as swine flu). In the USA, 131 cases have been confirmed, with one death.

So far, there have been eight confirmed cases in the UK, with cases also confirmed in Austria, Canada, Germany, Israel, Netherlands, New Zealand, Spain and Switzerland.

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The Mexican Red Cross has health personnel on high alert across the country and is giving people general health advice.

Global appeal

The International Federation of Red Cross and Red Crescent Societies has launched a global appeal for 5 million Swiss francs (3.3 million euros) to fund its response to the spread of swine flu.

Bekele Geleta, secretary general of the Federation, said: “This is a situation of immediate and serious concern. We estimate that more than 130 of our 186 National Societies are already active in mitigating the impact of the flu virus.

“These activities include working closely with governments as part of national responses to reduce the risk of infection; disseminating vital public health messages; strengthening early warning systems and mobilising trained community volunteers."

Dominique Praplan, head of the IFRC’s health department in Geneva, agreed, saying: “The best case scenario right now would be for national level epidemics to be managed, which would lessen the likelihood of a widespread global pandemic. The worst case scenario is for the epidemic to develop into a severe, potentially life-threatening pandemic. If this transpires, the IFRC will apply the full vigour and commitment of its resources and expertise to join a global effort.”

Visit the Department of Health’s website

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Learn how to be prepared for swine flu

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Read about how we responded to Spanish flu

The British Red Cross is prepared to make a donation from the Disaster Fund in response to this serious threat if there is a large-scale outbreak of swine flu and extra resources are needed.