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The Flu Plague Of 2006

The Daily Record (London)
Tuesday January 11, 11:09 PM
http://uk.news.yahoo.com/000111/12/db9j.html

AS Britain reels from the worst outbreak of influenza in more than a decade,
scientists have warned the next epidemic may kill millions. They fear the virus
could mutate into an even bigger killer than the one which wiped out an
estimated 40 million people in 1918. BOB SHIELDS imagines life after the
great plague of 2006 ...IT started with a sniff ... but no-one told us it would
end like this. And the tragedy is, the symptoms were there for us all to see.

Influenza - flu to most of us - is the Toblerone-shaped bug that kills 4000 in
the UK every year. Most of the victims are the elderly or those already
weakened with heart or respiratory problems.

In November, the early cases came creeping into Britain's surgeries. Doctors
wrote them off as the first of winter's wheezers and sneezers.

But as invisible as the bug itself, figures started to grow. Doctors noted the increase in influenza
sufferers, but thought it was just a blip in their average case list.

Dr Aberdeen wasn't to know that Dr Ayr was experiencing the same 20 per cent increase in flu
victims.

Well, not until it was too late.

Hospitals were first to ring the alarm bells - registrars became anxious as the number of beds being
used by flu sufferers rose.

And there were some deaths that made their figures look a little uncomfortable.

Regional medical officers got the information on their desks at the end of the month, but few read the
reports. The Christmas party season had started.

Others weren't experienced enough to understand them, but someone did - a researcher, a
post-graduate on exchange from the ER-famed County General in Chicago, got hold of the figures.

"What's an epidemic here in England?" he asked.

"Four cases per every thousand of the population," he was told.

"Guys, we just got ourselves a flu epidemic."

Newspapers were slow to pick up on the story - until the death of a fit young rugby player.

Until now, hardened editors felt flu was something that picked off the weak, those that were in God's
waiting room anyway. But the young rugby player's picture haunted every front page.

Calls to the health department rang alarms bells and the Health Minister was finally cornered in the
Commons.

"It's an epidemic, but not a serious one," he told MPs.

Leader of the Opposition, Michael Portillo, replied with headline- grabbing gravity.

"Tell that to the families of the victims. There are people dying out there. Have we learned nothing
since Millennium Flu killed 29,000?"

It was all too late. Hospitals began to sag under the volume of referrals from GPs.

Practices that lost 300 patients a year were now seeing 10 people every day develop life-threatening
illness.

No-one was immune. A famous actor died. Then a senior member of the Royal Family.

The nation mourned as news of the McAndrew family from Aberdeen arrived on their screens.

Mrs Susan McAndrew had gone to hospital with her sons Ian, three, and Callum, five, at noon. She
then sat and watched them die, in neighbouring beds, within 20 minutes of each other.

A Highland primary school of just six pupils was left with just one little boy. Pictures of him sitting
alone in class made every front page.

Kirks and chapels buried the dead - and asked their congregations to pray for a cure.

Researchers had found the bug, but were helpless against this superflu strain. Its roots were traced to
Grozny, where disease had lived unchecked since the Russians obliterated the area in 2000.

Locals had called it Yeltsin flu, after the late former Russian leader.

Its virulence was the speed at which it travelled - and killed.

One man sneezing on a Jumbo jet could infect 300 passengers. If any of them sneezed in a train,
office or shop, they could infect thousands more.

The Government was forced to declare a national emergency - but were hammered for deciding a
week after the USA, France, Germany and Italy had announced similar status.

People were dying in their thousands from Yeltsin Flu. And that was only the UK. The Euro
Parliament was stunned when doctors revealed 26,000 EEC victims a day.

"It's not an epidemic - it's a plague," said one newspaper's front page.

"It's the Aids of the innocents," screamed another.

Prime Minister Gordon Brown was forced to announce a total shutdown of all but essential
industries.

"People are catching this bug in schools, in factories, in shops and offices. This Government has no
alternative but to close them ... close them tonight," he told a hushed Commons.

It was a gamble. With the threat of food shortages, people would hoard or even loot if they had
been given any longer notice.

"I regret to announce a 24-hour curfew in mainland UK," he added.

"Essential services - hospital staff, doctors, the police, this House, certain government agencies and
the BBC will remain exempt. The Army will be mobilised to help maintain this curfew until further
notice."

He sat down at the despatch box, tears in his eyes. Michael Portillo broke with Commons etiquette
and crossed the floor to console him.

Scottish First Minister Alex Salmond immediately announced the Scots would follow suit. Ireland,
united in 2005, agreed within the hour.

For six days, most of the planet didn't stir. Fathers played games with their children. With power
cuts, computers were banned. The BBC broadcast hourly bulletins.

Mothers were forced to look out recipes from books their grand- mothers had left them. History
would reveal that five million UK households baked bread for the first time.

There was tragedy, too. A farmer watched his wife slip away in front of him. He kissed her farewell
then went to his gun cupboard ... and seconds later they had both found peace.

The Army and police maintained supplies to the elderly. And had the job of retrieving bodies from
houses.

One Ayrshire fireman was offered compassionate leave after moving the bodies of his brother,
brother-in-law and uncle in the same shift.

He refused and later became one of 356 Scots to be honoured for services during the flu scourge.

Doctors still argue over how the bug disappeared as quickly as it came.

Some claim the coldest January for 200 years helped kill the spores in the air. Others maintained that
the public had built up an immunity.

Spanish Flu claimed 150,000 UK lives in 1918. Asian Flu killed 30,000 in 1958 and Hong Kong
Flu 31,000 in 1969. The Millennium Flu of 2000 claimed 29,000.

Gordon Brown rose to tell the Commons in March that the UK's final loss from the 2006 Yeltsin flu
was 756,000.

"We cannot let this happen again," he pledged.
 

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