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Tracking the killer swine flu across NSW

| 19.07,09. 06:42 AM |

Tracking the killer swine flu across NSW

 July 17, 2009 10:30PM

THEY are the Government scientists who have lived and breathed swine flu for the past three months - working around the clock tracking a deadly virus with the potential to kill.

Before April 13, when the first cases of swine flu emerged in Mexico, the crack team of virologists, doctors and epidemiologists had only ever had practice runs of a pandemic.

But all their experience and planning could not fully prepare them for the H1N1 human swine flu pandemic.

It was early April when Dr Debra Piccone received the call she and the state had been dreading: "There is this strange virus that is killing a lot of people in Mexico."

On the other end of the phone was a doctor of 22 years experience, Dr Kerry Chant, worried that the killer bug would hit our shores.

It needed a swift response.

One of the first priorities was to place Sydney Airport on high alert.

Two Sydney laboratories, SEAL and IRPS, were activated for a pandemic.

There are now up to eight labs, operating 24 hours, as the demand for testing has grown.

An extra five epidemiologists have been employed to track the flu - following the number of people who are admitted to hospital with swine flu compared to influenza A.

The H1N1 pandemic virus has caused unprecedented levels of admissions to hospitals and destroyed perceptions that the young and healthy would not become victims.

As the state's chief medical officer, Dr Chant has become the public face of swine flu.

Every day she gives an update to the public on where the virus is spreading.

"At the beginning the biggest threat was bringing the disease in," she said.

"It was all about containment."

On April 28 the first case of swine flu was confirmed in Australia.

Almost 12,000 Australians have caught the virus - 29 have died.

Virologists have frequently tested the virus to see if its makeup is changing and becoming more virulent.

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