Page last updated at 11:22 GMT, Friday, 24 July 2009 12:22 UK

Swine flu on a small island

Stanley, Falklands Islands

By Caroline McClatchey and Paula Dear
BBC News

Swine flu has arrived in the Falkland Islands. Medical experts said it was only a matter of time, but how does such a remote place, with a resident population of less than 2,500, manage the virus within its small shores?

"There's definitely swine flu here in the Falklands," says Dr Roger Diggle, chief medical officer for the islands.

Seven swabs were sent to the UK for testing - five of which came back positive for swine flu. Two of the cases were teenagers from the Falklands, the other three were military.

Dr Diggle, who has worked in the Falklands for 18 years, says all five were under the age of 35, and they all had mild flu-like symptoms.

Jordan and his family
The whole of the island knew Jordan had swine flu within 20 minutes
Michelle King, mother of swine flu victim

The two "civilians" had been at the Island Games - a competition which small islands around the world take part in.

This year the games were held in Aland, part of an archipelago between Sweden and Finland, but the two teenagers stopped over in the UK on their way home and are thought to have caught swine flu there.

The Falkland Islands has adopted the same policy as the UK - first containment and then, after the disease is confirmed, treatment.

Winter time

Dr Diggle estimates that there have been about 20 suspect cases, but it is currently winter in the Falklands and there are a few other viral infections around.

"No doubt we have had some more cases of swine flu but they have not been labelled as so," he says.

Another problem the Falklands faces is getting samples to the UK for testing - they only have a 24-hour life span - and there are only three flights a week, one commercial, two military.

Dr Roger Diggle
Dr Diggle says the island is well-prepared for a large-scale infection

The island, along with other British overseas territories, arranged to buy anti-flu drugs from the UK government in May. They asked for a new supply last Thursday and it arrived three days later on an RAF plane.

The islands are well-prepared to cope should large numbers of people become ill, Dr Diggle says.

"We have fewer sick people than we normally have at this time of year."

The health authority has advised people not to travel if they are unwell with flu-like symptoms, and has warned "appropriate quarantine measures" may be taken if arriving passengers are found to be suffering from an infectious disease.

Sore throat

Michelle King's son Jordan was one of the teenagers infected, although he is now back at school and playing badminton, the sport which took him to the Island Games.

After the games, he went to stay with his aunt and uncle in Islington, north London, and unbeknown to his mother, the boy next door had suspected swine flu.

Everyone knows someone who has it and when you see they are fine, that makes it much less worrying
Ailie Biggs, Penguin News

He arrived home on Thursday 9 July and by Monday, he was complaining of a sore throat.

"He went to school as normal," says the mother-of-three. "But by Monday night, he had a fever and was sweating.

"I phoned the hospital on Tuesday and by then he had told me about the neighbour's son in Islington."

She was told to keep him at home and by Friday, it was confirmed as swine flu.

"I wasn't overly concerned because none of the family have underlying health issues."

'Bit panicky'

The whole family were given a dose of Tamiflu and they decided to isolate themselves at their home in the capital Stanley for a few days.

Ms King says she did not want her son to be responsible for the spread of swine flu in the Falklands and once she told the school, "the whole of the island knew Jordan had swine flu within 20 minutes".

Jordan Phillips
A fully recovered Jordan Phillips most likely caught swine flu in London

"We decided to keep ourselves out of the way for our own peace of mind and not to panic anyone," she says.

"It's a small island and people tend to get hyped up about this type of thing. But the community were very kind to us."

It appears everyone in the Falklands knows someone with swine flu - the 2006 census recorded a resident population of 2,478. This excluded the 1,700-plus at the military base.

Ailie Biggs is the deputy news editor of the local weekly, Penguin News. She says they had been told to expect the virus, as so many people travel to and from the Falklands.

"People were a bit panicky at first but they are not that bothered now," she says.

"Everyone knows someone who has it and when you see they are fine, that makes it much less worrying."



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