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Some measures won’t help prevent flu pandemic – report

2A woman talks on a phone through a protective mask while waiting for a health check at a hospital in Hanoi August 4, 2009.

Some measures won’t help prevent flu pandemic – report

By Maggie Fox, Health and Science Editor

WASHINGTON (Reuters) – Closing schools, stopping large gatherings and other such measures are unlikely to do much to prevent the spread of the H1N1 swine flu pandemic, a team of experts predicted on Wednesday.

They said pandemic closely resembles the pandemic of H2N2 influenza in 1957 when it quickly became apparent that there was little officials could do to stop it.

“Efforts to mitigate it were futile,” Brooke Courtney Center for Biosecurity at the University of Pittsburgh Medical Center said in a telephone interview.

Federal officials are expected to announce their recommendations for school closures on Friday. Local school districts and states usually make the decision to close schools, but they look to the federal government for advice.

At the height of the epidemic in May, more than 700 schools closed in the United States, according to the Department of Education.

In Mexico, where the pandemic started, officials closed government offices and schools for around two weeks in April and May, and encouraged businesses to close.

H1N1 is still circulating and, just as influenza did in 1957, it is dominating the mixture of viruses in the southern hemisphere’s flu season going on now.

In its latest update last week the World Health Organization reported 162,230 confirmed cases and 1,154 deaths. But flu experts said this probably reflected only a fraction of the true count as not every patient can be diagnosed with a lab test.

Experts expect the flu will pick up activity in the northern hemisphere’s autumn and the WHO predicted one third of the world’s population — two billion people — will eventually be infected.

TOO WIDESPREAD

Governments are taking different approaches to slowing the spread of the virus. Last month, British experts on the spread of disease said closing schools at the first sign of a new pandemic might delay the worst so health officials can prepare, but cannot prevent the spread of the disease.

Writing in the journal Biosecurity and Bioterrorism, Courtney, Dr. D. A. Henderson and colleagues said it appears that the new H1N1 is now too widespread to try to stop.

“In 1957 it was decided pretty early on that efforts to quarantine or isolate people would not be effective,” Courtney said.

As happened this year, the virus first appeared in the northern hemisphere’s spring. It worsened in the fall. “The opening of schools in September appeared to be a major factor in initiating community epidemics,” the researchers wrote.

“Schools were not closed for the purpose of trying to control the spread of disease. They were closed because too many teachers or administrators or students were out,” Courtney said.

In 1957, 25 percent of the U.S. population became ill. Global health experts estimate two million people died.

“What we saw was that the federal government took very practical steps to deal with the expected pandemic in the fall in 1957,” Courtney said. “They understood that, yes, it was expected that there would be a lot of people who got sick.”

In 1957 it took months to make a vaccine and then it was not very effective, the researchers found.

Drug companies have started making vaccine against H1N1 swine flu. But the recommended population of 160 million people, including healthcare workers and pregnant women, cannot be fully immunized until December, experts estimate. Two doses are needed for full protection.

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PCs could be hit next in Web attack – South Korea

in.reuters.com

PCs could be hit next in Web attack – South Korea

SEOUL july 10- Cyber attacks slowing U.S. and South Korean websites could enter a new phase on Friday by attacking personal computers and wiping hard disks, a South Korean government agency and Web security firm said.

North Korea was originally a prime suspect for launching the cyber attacks, but the isolated state was not named on a list of five countries where the attacks may have originated, the Korea Communications Commission (KCC) said.

The attacks targeting dozens of government and business sites in South Korea and the United States did not caused major damage or security breaches, experts said, but the KCC warned a new phase at 1500 GMT on Friday that could cause severe damage.

Leading South Korean Web security firm Ahnlab said data stored on tens of thousands of affected computers could be damaged.

“The affected computers will not be able to boot and their storage files will be disabled,” said Lee Byung-cheol of Ahnlab.

FIVE COUNTRIES NAMED

The commission said host Web sites believed behind the original attacks were based in Germany, Austria, the United States, Georgia and South Korea.

South Koreans lawmakers briefed by the National Intelligence Service said although North Korea was not one of the list, Pyongyang was still seen as a likely suspects.

Internet access is denied to almost everyone in impoverished North Korea, but intelligence sources say leader Kim Jong-il launched a cyber warfare unit several years ago.

Some analysts questioned the North’s involvement, saying it may be the work of industrial spies or pranksters.

The attacks saturated target websites with access requests generated by malicious software planted on personal computers. This overwhelmed some targeted sites and slowed server response to legitimate traffic.

The so-called “distributed denial of service” hacking attack spreads viruses on PCs, turning them into zombies to simultaneously connect to specific sites, unbeknownst to owners, experts said.

U.S. officials would not speculate on who might be behind the attacks but noted that U.S. government websites face attacks or scams “millions of times” a day.

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