Bird flu could kill 2 million Brits

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A UK expert is warning that the bird flu pandemic is imminent and inevitable and two million Britons could die.

The expert, Professor Hugh Pennington, the president of the Society for General Microbiology and professor emeritus of bacteriology at Aberdeen University accuses the British Government of being "very relaxed".

He is also critical of the Government's "optimistic" attitude to a potentially devastating pandemic, comparing it to the complacency over BSE a decade ago.

Professor Pennington, in the starkest warning yet over the potentially devastating impact of the pandemic, said that the number of deaths has been greatly underestimated. He expects the flu - like the 1918 pandemic which killed more people than the First World War - to cause the deaths of many people from pneumonia.

The governments attempt to play down the potential impact of bird flu saying only some 50,000 people would die in Britain, no more than the four times the normal annual flu death rate, is hardly re-assuring and they have already been contradicted by Scotland's chief medical officer, who says it would be 10 times worse.

Fears that it is beginning to spread from person to person were increased by news revealed yesterday by Vietnamese health officials that a nurse who had cared for a bird flu victim in the country's northern Thai Bin province had contracted the disease. She is the second nurse in a week to have contracted the flu, which had previously been caught from poultry. Illness in health workers could be the first sign that the disease has begun to be infectious in humans, bringing a pandemic much closer, warn experts. Pandemics occur when a new virus spreads rapidly among people with little or no immunity.

Experts are unanimous that this is inevitable with bird flu, but are unable to predict when. The WHO says there is now the gravest possible danger of a worldwide pandemic. Air travel will accelerate the spread of the virus.

The UK have ordered 14.6 million courses of an anti-viral drug, the only defence at present available, but, these drugs will take up to two years to arrive.

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