Nothing to Sniff at: in the wake of the bird flu epidemic in mainland Europe, our reporter examines the implications for the Fire and Rescue Service, if a flu pandemic should occur in the UK.(Flu pandemic)


Weakness in limbs and mind? These could be some of the collective symptoms facing Fire and Rescue Service managers in the event of the anticipated pandemic flu crisis that some experts predict could be only months away. What then is the prognosis for the maintenance of service delivery when up to 25 per cent of staff are directly affected and even greater numbers affected indirectly?

First the facts. Unlike some of the unhelpful and confusing scare stories that hit the media headlines the truth is somewhat more subtle. Influenza comes in various forms. Winter flu--the most common seasonal viral infection--kills about 12,000 UK residents each year. The typical symptoms--fever, malaise, headaches, muscle pains and loss of appetite--usually appear one to three days after infection through droplets (sneezes and coughs) or surface cross contamination. Avian flu is still an unknown at the moment but most experts believe it is most likely that a derivative of existing flu strains, rather than one of avian origin, will be the cause of the next pandemic.

To achieve pandemic status, flu requires several conditions to occur. The first is the evolution of a new type of virus. The flu virus is continually changing, defeating attempts to permanently eliminate it or the ability for the population as a whole to develop a natural resistance. It also needs an efficient transmission mechanism between people--close contact between individuals and groups--in aircraft, schools, offices, residential care homes being ideal conditions. …

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