Britain tops flu spread ‘risk list’

PARIS: Britain is most at risk to the spread of an influenza pandemic, closely followed by The Netherlands, Germany, Italy and South Korea, according to a ranking of 213 countries released on Friday.

Russia, Canada, Israel, Singapore, Hong Kong and Japan are also classified as being at “extreme risk” of a flu virus spreading within their borders due to some mix of dense populations, busy airports, and high levels of tourism and urbanisation.

The World Health Organisation declared on Thursday that the A(H1N1) swine flu that has swept across 74 countries since April — infecting tens of thousands and claiming 145 lives — had become a pandemic, the first in four decades. But even if most rich countries are vulnerable the rapid transmission of the disease, they are far better equipped to cope with its impact, said Alyson Warhurst, a professor at Warwick Business School in Britain and main architect of the global ranking.

“Capacity to contain the spread is going to be much weaker in poor countries with very poor infrastructure and lack of education. That would be much of sub-Saharan Africa,” she told AFP. In a separate “capacity” index, all but seven of the 40 nations least able to contain a pandemic are on the African continent. At the other end of the spectrum, the EU — along with the US, Japan and other wealthy states with strong health care systems and communications networks — comprise the 40 countries most able to thwart or slow down a full-on pandemic. A third index, also compiled in cooperation with British-based Maplecroft, identified nations most likely to see the emergence of a new pandemic flu strain on their territory.

“In these countries, people are not so poor as to not have assets,” said Warhurst. “They own swine and poultry, but they lack clean water and sanitation, as well as health education outreach. These tend to be emerging economies.” Five of the 11 countries topping this list are those where the bird flu has hit hardest, the research showed.

All the major pandemics over the last century have combined genetic material from viruses found in pigs, birds and humans, with swine often being the final “mixing vessel” before the strains mutated into a form easily spread among people.