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July 21, 2009

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Swine flu controversy

HEALTH officials in Britain have issued a torrent of advice on swine flu, telling people to avoid travel, stay away from crowds and even advising women to delay getting pregnant.

But other health experts said yesterday that the advice risked scaring and confusing the public and was a complete overreaction to a virus that so far remains mild.

Still, Britain's press dug into the topic with relish, publishing headlines such as "Guards protect swine flu drugs" and "Swine flu alert for pregnant women and babies."

Since swine flu was declared a pandemic by the World Health Organization in June, Britain's response has swung between early claims that the virus was not spreading widely to recent predictions there could be 100,000 new cases a day by the end of August.

Britain's Department of Health recommended that people with flu-like symptoms delay holidays and other travelers take medicine with them and avoid public places.

But since people with swine flu are often contagious before they even have symptoms, it was not clear how that advice would slow the spread of the virus.

"You shouldn't rearrange your life around the virus at this point," said Gregory Hartl, a spokesman for the World Health Organization. Most people who get swine flu only experience mild symptoms and don't need any treatment. Even now, during the summer holiday period, WHO does not recommend any travel-related measures to prevent the spread of swine flu.

In its most controversial advice, the Department of Health recommended "delaying conception whilst the pandemic is going on." But the Royal College of General Practitioners called that advice "scaremongering."


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