Swine flu: 'relatively mild'

The percentage chances of Ireland not experiencing the swine flu pandemic are now only in "single figures", with up to 50% of the population at risk of contracting the virus, according to one of the men in charge of coordinating the state's response to the crisis.

In an interview with the Sunday Tribune, Dr Kevin Kelleher, head of health protection with the HSE, stressed that the impact of any pandemic here would depend significantly on how severe a strain of the flu infects the Irish population.

But he warned that it could prove pointless trying to quarantine people once the number of people with the virus here increases.

As a result, he said that the focus of public-health efforts here could move "in the not so distant future" from quarantine measures to managing those who are ill at home and in hospitals.

At a press conference at Government Buildings yesterday, his colleague Dr Bill Hall revealed that the confirmed cases of the virus outside of Mexico had indicated that it would appear to be a "relatively mild disease", although he emphasised that this was not a cause for complacency.

He said confirmation on the one probable case in Ireland was not yet available due to problems with the samples which had been taken.

Tests to confirm the presence of the virus which have been sent to Britain have been delayed because hundreds of samples there are said to be insufficient to give reliable results.

However, he said new laboratory tests are being developed and should be ready in the next week.

Asked what the percentage chances of a pandemic not reaching Ireland were, Dr Kelleher told the Sunday Tribune that "from what we've been told, the World Health Organisation [WHO] and things like that, you're in small single figures".

"What we're actually saying is, and what the WHO is saying, is that Ireland is likely to have some further cases as a consequence of the incidents in Mexico and the US.

"This sort of phase... once that moves on to the next level, Ireland will have a flu pandemic here, and that could affect something from 10% and 15% up to 50% of the population," he said.