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April 29, 2009 12:01am

SOUTH Australia is on alert and braced for the arrival of swine flu.

Chief medical officer Paddy Phillips said every reported flu case would be investigated and the state would not be caught off-guard.

“While this is a serious situation we’re well prepared,” he said yesterday.

“We’ve been preparing for a situation like this for several years.

“We’re asking people who’ve been to the U.S., Mexico and Canada, and who’ve got headaches, fevers, aches and pains and who have flu-like symptoms, to attend one of the designated hospitals – that’s the Royal Adelaide, the Women’s and Children’s, Flinders hospital and in the country, Berri, Port Lincoln, Mount Gambier, Port Augusta and Whyalla (hospitals).”

Staff at those hospitals have received extra training and equipment to deal with a flu epidemic.

Today, posters will appear at emergency department entrances warning recent international travellers with flu symptoms to don masks before entering the hospital.

Professor Phillips appealed for anyone who was experiencing flu-like symptoms to isolate themselves.

“Wearing a mask is not part of our culture (but) if someone has a respiratory tract infection of any type it can reduce the spread to other people,” he said.

Pharmacies contacted yesterday said they had face masks in stock but were yet to see any significant increase in requests for them.

In 2007, the Health Department devised a plan to deal with pandemic influenza.

The plan estimates an “attack rate of 25 per cent” would result in 46,000 new cases a week and 2600 deaths over two months.

During a pandemic, “border nurses” would be stationed at the airport to screen international arrivals for influenza.

Designated flu clinics would be established, as well as fever checkpoints at hospitals and surgeries.

University of South Australia microbiologist Mary Barton, who researches zoonotic (animal-to-human) diseases, said Australia appeared to be taking “appropriate action”.

It was too soon to tell whether swine flu would develop to pandemic proportions.

“It’s a wait and see,” she said.

“It could just be a new strain of flu that isn’t very nice.”

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