Page last updated at 11:12 GMT, Tuesday, 28 April 2009 12:12 UK

More swine flu tests in Scotland

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The latest briefing from Scottish Health Secretary Nicola Sturgeon

A total of 23 people across Scotland are being tested for swine flu, in addition to a newly-wed couple confirmed to have contracted the virus.

Iain and Dawn Askham were named as the first UK cases of the disease after returning from honeymoon in Mexico.

They are said to be responding well to treatment.

Nine people who came into contact with Mr and Mrs Askham are displaying "mild" symptoms. A further 14 unrelated cases are also being investigated.

Swine flu is believed to have claimed almost 150 lives in Mexico.

Britons are being advised to consider leaving Mexico.

Iain and Dawn Askham
Iain and Dawn Askham were on honeymoon in Mexico

The World Health Organization has raised its alert level to four - two steps short of declaring a pandemic.

Mr and Mrs Askham have been given anti-virals and are said to be responding well at Monklands Hospital in Airdrie.

Scottish Health Secretary Nicola Sturgeon said tests were being carried out on nine people who came into close contact with the pair and who also have "mild cold-like" symptoms.

She said a further 14 people from health boards across Scotland were also displaying mild symptoms. It is understood they had either returned from travelling in affected areas, or come into close contact with someone who had.

The cases under investigation are in Greater Glasgow and Clyde, Lothian, Forth Valley, Grampian, Tayside and Lanarkshire.

None of these 23 cases had been confirmed as swine flu, Ms Sturgeon said.

One other person on the same flight as Mr and Mrs Askham has contacted health authorities in England with symptoms.

All other passengers on the flight have not been contacted because flight records are only kept for a short amount of time and were not available by the time the couple were admitted.

Speaking at a media conference in Edinburgh, Ms Sturgeon said Mr and Mrs Askham remained in Monklands Hospital, and no decision had yet been taken about when they would be discharged.

But she stressed: "It's good news that they continue to improve. Their condition never gave cause for clinical concern, nevertheless they do continue to recuperate and recover.

"I would anticipate - absolutely, and very frankly anticipate - that we will have more cases under investigation over the next number of days and weeks. That is the nature of this. And it may be that more of these cases are confirmed as swine flu - we don't know that at this stage."

Mr and Mrs Askham's home in Polmont
Paramedics were called to the couple's house in Polmont

Mr and Mrs Askham picked up the virus while on honeymoon in the Mexican resort of Cancun.

They had been married on 4 April at the Three Kings hotel, near Falkirk.

Hotel owner David Cattanach said he believed the couple had flown out on honeymoon two days later.

Mr Askham is employed by utility firm Scottish Power and is a keen amateur footballer who plays for six-a-side team FC Mallard in a league based at Ochilview Park, the home of Scottish Football League third division side Stenhousemuir.

An FC Mallard match due to have taken place on Wednesday night has been cancelled because of the flu scare.

Mrs Askham works at a local Boots chemist shop.

A spokesman for Boots said: "We have acted quickly and have co-operated fully with the authorities to ensure that any risk to public health is minimised.

"Colleagues who may have been in contact with the virus have been asked to stay at home, and have been tested and treated as a precaution.

"We are confident that the necessary steps have been taken to help prevent the further transmission of the virus and the store is open and trading as usual."

SWINE FLU
Swine flu is a respiratory disease thought to spread through coughing and sneezing
Symptoms mimic those of normal flu - but in Mexico people are beginning to die
Good hygiene like using a tissue and washing hands thoroughly can help reduce transmission

Mr and Mrs Askham's parents are among the close contacts who have received precautionary antiviral treatment.

Mrs Askham's father, Brian Colston, said his daughter's condition was improving, when he spoke at the door of his home in Falkirk on Tuesday morning.

"She's doing OK, she's getting better," he said.

Neighbours of the couple spoke of their shock on learning they had contracted the virus.

Rachel Anderson, who lives across the road, said: "They were in Mexico for their honeymoon. On Saturday one of the neighbours noticed a paramedic on the street and they have not seen the couple since.

"It is a shame for them and I feel for their family. They will be very worried. It's not the kind of honeymoon you want."

Prime Minister Gordon Brown and Ms Sturgeon took part in a meeting of the UK Government's Cobra emergencies committee on Tuesday morning.

Health officials are urging everyone to remain vigilant and anyone with flu symptoms who thinks they may have come into contact with the couple should call NHS 24 on 08454 24 24 24.

Map showing spread of swine flu
Mexico: 152 suspected deaths from swine flu - 20 confirmed cases
US: 50 confirmed cases
Canada: 6 confirmed cases
New Zealand - 3 confirmed cases
UK - 2 confirmed cases
Spain: 2 confirmed case
Israel - 1 confirmed case
Countries with suspected cases: Brazil, Guatemala, Peru, Australia, and South Korea


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