AN Irish scientist predicted a swine flu-like outbreak five years ago and warned that a lack of Tamiflu stockpiles and a suitable vaccine could spell disaster for the population.

Dr Neil Rowan, a leading Irish and international expert in clinical microbiology at the Athlone Institute of Technology, gave lectures and even wrote a letter to a local newspaper predicting an "imminent" threat. "My concern was that we didn't have a vaccine against it and would we have sufficient stock piles of [Tamiflu or antiviral drugs] until the vaccine arrived," he told the Sunday Tribune.

"In and around that time if you mentioned swine flu it wasn't a well-known thing to people. It was bird flu at the time but I had indicated my concern that it didn't have to be a bird flu, that it could be incubated in pigs or in other domestic animals.

"I didn't give a timeframe but I knew it was imminent."

Rowan had outlined that for a relatively long period of time, the world had not suffered any serious strain of influenza and that this unpalatable reality, coupled with advances in world travel and technology, could lay a solid foundation for a new pandemic.

"It became quickly apparent that we had moved on so quickly in 15 years and you had bugs or viruses that hadn't been around in a long time so the likelihood of these occurring and spreading was quite apparent," he said.

"There was a very strong likelihood of this occurring. I wanted to highlight it to colleagues that we should be in a better state of preparedness.

"I was concerned that we didn't have sufficient stock piles at the time but we have moved on significantly in the last number of years and the stock piles have gone up."