SCHOOLS, nurseries and various secondary public services would close in the event of a flu pandemic in order to contain the virus that could affect between 25 and 30 per cent of Portugal’s population. All non-urgent hospital treatment would be postponed and additional medical staff would be recruited to cope with the influx of cases. These measures, and many more, are contained in the Plano de Contingência Para a Gripe (Contingency Plan for Flu) which was approved by the government recently, following alerts from the World Health Organisation (WHO).
Outbreaks of the bird flu virus, H5N1, have so far been due to the flu spreading from animals to humans. But Nancy Cox, of the US Centre for Disease Control and Prevention, says a number of subtypes have proven their ability to jump the species barrier. Several experts believe the bird flu virus could mutate to pass from human to human and trigger a pandemic.
Portugal’s contingency plan document outlines a series of technical guidelines that would be followed in phases, should the specialists’ fears be realised.
Threat is real
According to Graça Freitas, a specialist in contagious illnesses from the Direcção-Geral de Saúde (DGS), Portugal’s national health directive, the threat is “real”, although no one can say exactly when it could occur. The closure of schools and other institutions are measures that could be taken, “depending on the virulence of the virus, the groups affected, the scale of public panic and the available means to fight the virus”. In any