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  Sunday, January 17, 2021
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Britain is buying 14.6 million courses of Roche's antiviral drug Tamiflu to protect against a potential flu pandemic
Countries around the world have been stockpiling the drug to combat a possible pandemic of bird flu, which has killed 47 people in Asia. The British order will provide 7.3 million doses by next April and the rest as soon as possible in 2006-7. Assuming a pandemic does not begin in the near future, UK supplies should be enough to treat one in four of the population -- the maximum number the WHO predicts might be infected in an outbreak, tells Reuters. The risk of a pandemic is now higher than it has ever been, the World Health Organisation believes, because of the spread of avian flu through chickens and other birds in south-east Asia. There have been 55 cases of humans infected with the H5N1 strain of avian flu in the past year of whom 42 have died, a death rate of 76 per cent, twice the death rate of smallpox. So far, there has been only limited evidence of transmission of the virus from person to person. But experts believe close contact between birds and humans in the region could lead through genetic reassortment to the development of a pandemic strain of flu that could spread rapidly across the globe. Estimates suggest that between two and 50 million people could die worldwide. Sir Liam Donaldson, the chief medical officer, said: "Wherever in the world a flu pandemic starts, perhaps with its epicentre in the Far East, we must assume we will be unable to prevent it reaching the UK. We can't prevent the pandemic from coming but we can do a lot to mitigate its effects, reports the Independent News. About 12,000 people in the UK die each year from ordinary seasonal flu, mainly the elderly and sick. No one knows how lethal a pandemic strain might be, but some countries, such as France, are more pessimistic, estimating twice as many deaths for population levels similar to Britain's. The death rate of 76 per cent of those infected in south-east Asia would imply millions could die if a quarter of the UK population was infected. But Professor Maria Zambon, head of the National Influenza Centre at the Health Protection Agency, said this was unlikely. "If the virus acquired the ability to transmit from person to person it is very likely we would see a vastly reduced hazard level for humans," she said
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