STAFF REPORTER

PALMA
BALEARIC Health Minister, Vicenç Thomas is appealing for calm in relation to the spread of swine flu in the Islands. “We're keeping the public informed on an issue which affects all of us,” he said yesterday in an interview.

Qu. We're facing a new virus H1N1, which is spreading rapidly on a global scale. What's you message to the regional population?
An. Because it's new, we don't know what effect it is going to have in the future. We of course already have experience of the seasonal flu dating back years which we tackle annually with vaccines. Theoretically no one at the moment has defences against swine flu and we're still learning how the virus behaves. But we do know it has the ability to spread quickly - with people constantly moving round the world, it has taken only two-and-a-half months to demonstrate how swiftly it can move.

Qu. Is our health service infrastructure ready to confront the new virus?
An. Most certainly. Our system of coping with seasonal flu with increased activity in the health service at primary care centres and in hospitals means that we've already got an established network able to deal with disease outbreak. We've also got very good professional people working in the health service. We're well prepared to tackle swine flu.

Qu. There is a lot of supposition about how many people are going to be affected by the virus. Do we really know?
An. No we don't. We need to know more about the virus as our knowledge of it is considerably limited. We basically know it is highly contagious, but on the other hand it hardly seems to have touched people over the age of 65. It seems to affect younger people, between 20 and 50. The virus seems to become more aggressive in cases where the patient already has respiratory problems. But in 95 percent of cases registered up until now, the disease only produces fever, aching bones for three days and little else.

Qu. You've said that people need not worry because we have enough anti-viral drugs.
An. Yes, we have treatment for more than 186'000 people and the Central Government Health Ministry is getting a supply of vaccine to cover 40 percent of the population which is a great deal more than that for seasonal flu. We'll need to prioritise high risk groups and set out a timetable for vaccination.

Qu. The government is putting together contingency plans in the event of swine fever running rampant through the population.
An. Yes, it's not just a question of having the health service on standby but also in areas of life such as education and industry. The seasonal flu can mean that instead of a teacher having a class of say 25, there is usually at least a week when there are only 15 or 16 pupils. If, let's say 30 percent of the population have the virus, we have to be ready for essential services to keep running.

Qu. The death of a 33-year-old Nigerian woman, Mabel Innocent from swine flu at Sont Llatzer hospital ten days ago must have been a turning point in how the population view the disease. Why did she use someone else's I.D?

An. We didn't know she'd been using someone else's papers until after she died. We had to go to court to get legal backing for police investigation into her real identity. We don't know why she used someone else's papers.

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