Page last updated at 19:55 GMT, Wednesday, 22 July 2009 20:55 UK

Human flu jab trials 'under way'

Vaccines
Several manufacturers are looking to produce a flu vaccine

Human trials of a vaccine to protect against the H1N1 swine flu virus have begun in Australia.

Vaxine and CSL have both started injecting volunteers this week, but it will be at least six weeks before the initial results are known.

Meanwhile, in the UK Gordon Brown has sought to reassure the public by saying the plans in place were "robust".

It comes as another death has been announced in the West Midlands, bringing the UK total to at least 31.

No more details are being released about the latest person to die with swine flu.

And the overall figure is likely to climb on Thursday when the Department of Health gives its weekly update. Worldwide, more than 700 people have died.

Adelaide-based Vaxine began trials on Monday with 300 subjects, and Melbourne's CSL has 240 people in its trial, which started on Wednesday.

SWINE FLU SYMPTOMS
1. High temperature, tiredness and lowered immunity
2. Headache, runny nose and sneezing
3. Sore throat
4. Shortness of breath
5. Loss of appetite, vomiting and diarrhoea
6. Aching muscles, limb and joint pain
Source: NHS

Neither firm has a contract with the UK government, which expects the first vaccine batches by the end of August.

But Vaxine research director Nikolai Petrovsky said: "There is no guarantee any of these vaccines will work. Swine flu is a very peculiar beast, its a very different virus that we're dealing with. But we are hopeful."

Meanwhile, drugs giant GlaxoSmithKline says it expects to triple capacity of its flu treatment Relenza to 190 million treatments per year.

Mr Brown admitted swine flu was putting the health service in the UK under strain.

But the prime minister said some of the pressure would be relieved by the National Flu Service, which is being launched in England later this week.

The phone and internet service will allow people with swine flu to get access to anti-flu drugs without needing to consult a doctor.

Mr Brown said: "I want the public to be reassured that we have been preparing for the possibility of a pandemic for a number of years.

Gordon Brown: "Robust plans are in place"

"The NHS is continuing to cope well, but as swine flu cases have started to increase we have needed to be able to give anti-virals more quickly.

"From the end of this week the National Flu Service will be up and running. This will free up GP and NHS time."

GPs have started to raise concerns about the number of calls they are getting about flu with every region of England apart from Yorkshire and the Humber seeing "exceptional" levels of demand.

Under contingency plans, non-emergency operations can be cancelled and doctors moved around the health service to help tackle hotspots.

It has not reached that stage yet, but ministers have been forced to set up the flu service.

We saw in the snow that many schools recognised that their school website was a good communication channel
Neil McClean, Becta technology agency

Mr Brown was speaking the day after Chief Medical Officer Sir Liam Donaldson admitted the flu pandemic was presenting the NHS with its "biggest challenge in a generation".

In the worst-case scenario, up to a third of the population could become infected this winter with as many as 65,000 deaths.

Sir Liam said coping with such huge demands would be a real test for everyone working in the health service.

Education chiefs have also been assessing the affect of a pandemic on schools with emergency plans for "virtual lessons", where children can log in from home and do work set and marked by teachers.

While head teachers want schools to stay open, they say they will do all they can to continue lessons if they are forced to close.

Immune systems

Becta, the body charged with promoting the best use of technology in England's schools, has also been involved in drafting plans, which include "homework by post".

Its executive director of institutional development, Neil McClean, said: "We saw in the snow that many schools recognised that their school website was a good communication channel."

Officials have been considering whether to extend the school summer holidays to try to limit the spread of the virus before a vaccine is widely available.

Meanwhile, the Meningitis Research Foundation has warned the focus on swine flu risks masking other serious illnesses.

A 17-year-old from Derbyshire was admitted to hospital last week after originally being diagnosed with swine flu.

The foundation warned people to be aware of the disease as the early symptoms of meningitis and septicaemia were "very similar" to flu.

The group also said the levels of flu circulating in the UK meant that immune systems were compromised and could lead to a rise in meningitis cases.



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