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April 03, 2006

Reply to H5N1 Live Feeds 24X7Avian Flu Watch

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Britain plans mass human graves in case of bird flu

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Sun Apr 2, 5:12 AM ET

Britain is considering mass human burials should a bird flu pandemic break out, The Sunday Times newspaper says.

A "prudent" worst-case assessment suggested 320,000 people could die in Britain if the H5N1 virus mutated into a form contagious to humans, according to a confidential Home Office report seen by the weekly.

Titled Managing Excess Deaths in an Influenza Pandemic and dated March 22, the document reportedly says that such a large number of deaths could lead to delays of up to 17 weeks in burying or cremating victims.

It warned that "common burial" would stir up images of the mass burial pits used during the Great Plague of 1665.

But in fact it "might involve a large number of coffins buried in the same place at the same time, in such a way that allowed for individual graves to be marked".

The Sunday Times weekly said the report had been discussed last week in a cabinet subcommittee chaired by Health Secretary Patricia Hewitt.

Avian influenza is lethal to poultry and dangerous for humans in close proximity to infected fowl. It has claimed more than 100 lives, according to a World Health Organisation toll.

But, apart from a few anecdotal cases, the mortality has occurred exclusively by direct transmission from birds to humans and not among humans themselves. To acquire that contagiousness would open the way to a pandemic.

The report suggests that local authorities could cope with a "base case" of 48,000 deaths in England and Wales in a 15-week pandemic.

But it warned: "Even with ramping local management capacity by 100 percent, the prudent worst case of 320,000 excess deaths is projected to lead to a delay of some 17 weeks from death to burial or cremation."

Should the outbreak kill 2.5 percent of those who contract the flu, it added, "no matter what emergency arrangements are put in place there are likely to be substantially more deaths than can be managed within current timescales".

It said vaccines would not be available in the first wave of a pandemic, and possibly longer, and should not be seen as a "silver bullet".

The report suggests schools would have to close for up to 10 weeks because children would be "super-spreaders" of bird flu.

The Home Office said it did not comment on leaked documents.

A spokesman added: "The government is taking seriously the possible threat of an influenza pandemic in the light of the global situation and the possibility that a novel strain of the influenza virus could emerge.

"Prudent precautionary planning is under way across all elements of the response, including the health service, other essential services and local authorities."

The H5N1 virus has been detected in nearby France.

Posted by dymaxion at April 3, 2006 08:55 PM

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