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Australian Swine Flu Expert to Work with WHO on Developing Guidelines

A leading Australian academic will travel to Geneva next month (June) to help the World Health Organisation (WHO) develop a set of guidelines to tackle swine flu.

Bond University Professor Chris Del Mar, who worked with the WHO on developing similar protocols for avian flu, will be part of a team of about 10 experts from around the world who will formulate guidelines for the event of swine flu reaching a pandemic level.

He is the only Australian-based expert to be invited to take part and said the group would be discussing several major issues, including the use of antiviral drugs, such as Tamiflu and Relenza, to treat a major swine flu outbreak.

“At the moment, I feel we are probably being a bit too liberal with the use of antiviral medications,” said Prof Del Mar, Dean of Bond University’s Faculty of Health Sciences and Medicine.

“We will be discussing whether the wide-spread use of these medicines to prevent people catching swine flu could potentially cause resistance to the drug.

“There is also the issue of who should be given the medication and at what time they should be given it; whether it should be administered to anyone who is sick or whether it should depend on the severity of the illness.

“There is doubt about whether it is a sensible approach to widely administer these antiviral drugs and this will be one of the major issues we will be making a decision on in Geneva.”

Prof Del Mar co-led a study on the use of physical barriers, such as regular handwashing and wearing masks, gloves and gowns, to prevent the spread of respiratory viruses like influenza and SARS.

The study was published in the British Medical Journal and suggested the simple, low cost physical measures should be given higher priority than antiviral medicines in preparing for a national pandemic.

“The use of these physical barriers will be a major discussion topic and consideration in the development of the set of guidelines for a swine flu pandemic,” he said.

Prof Del Mar is a leading expert in managing existing evidence and research, and is a coordinating editor of the Cochrane Group, which has a major focus on acute respiratory infections.

“There is a lot of research out there and my focus is on collating a coherent picture so we can give the right information to doctors and patients,” he said.

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