Health experts warn of new swine flu outbreak this fall

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Nearly a quarter of Norway’s population may fall ill this autumn when a new outbreak of swine flu is expected to hit Europe. It’s not clear whether it will be a less-aggressive or more-aggressive strain of the virus that struck thousands this spring.

Norwegian health authorities aren’t sounding any major alarms, but they’re bracing for a flu outbreak that may force a million people in Norway to stay in bed.

To date, less than 10 persons in Norway have been infected by the A (H1N1)- virus known as swine flu. The ninth case was confirmed last week, when a woman in her 30s fell ill after arriving home from a trip to the US.

All Norwegians confirmed to have had swine flu were infected during foreign travel. Public health officials now predict the virus eventually will spread within the country’s borders.

“What we see as most probable is that the virus will spread evenly around the world, but that a major outbreak won’t hit Europe until after summer,” Dr Bjørn Iversen of the Norwegian Institute of Public Health (Folkehelseinstituttet) told newspaper Aftenposten. “We think it will spread, also within Norway, through the autumn and winter.”

As many as 400,000 Norwegians get the flu during a “normal” fall-winter flu season. If the swine flu virus takes hold, more than a million can fall ill.

Iversen cautioned, though, that there’s no immediate danger an outbreak of swine flu will be any worse than other flu epidemics. He said there was no call for panic.

“So far, the swine flu virus has been milder than the ordinary flu we’ve experienced in Norway,” he said, adding, however, that the swine flu virus hasn’t taken a final form yet.

The UN’s World Health Organisation (WHO) has registered around 22,000 cases of swine flu so far worldwide, meaning that it was close to being classified as a pandemic.