A swine flu pandemic is likely to hit Britain in the autumn, an expert has warned. So far there has been a relatively low total of 244 confirmed cases in this country. But as the weather cools in September and October the number could rise, according to Professor John Oxford.
Children going back to school, universities reopening and workers returning after the summer break would give swine flu the ‘opportunity’ it needs, he said.
However, a vaccine may not be ready until October or November – after the pandemic strikes – and would only cover about 15 per cent of the population, the professor warned. At Eton yesterday, a further 32 swine flu cases were reported. The school has been forced to close for a week, with pupils having to take exams in controlled conditions. And Wales reported its first case of the disease – a 31-year-old man in Caerphilly who picked up the virus during a trip to the U.S.
Prof Oxford, a virologist at Barts Hospital, Central London, said yesterday: ‘At the moment it’s moving fairly quietly in the community. ‘But when children go back to school in September the virus has an opportunity, and normally it takes it. That’s the scenario we should prepare for, and that’s what we are preparing for.
‘It can die down, but then everybody around the world comes back together, universities re-open and people start returning to work and school, and that’s when the trouble starts.’
He added: ‘Already, sporadic cases in the UK have been shown that are not linked with cases that have travelled. That does suggest that the virus is silently spreading around.’