Swine flu is likely to spread around the world in the next few months and infect one-third of the global population, according to the first detailed analysis of the spread of the virus.
The study by researchers at London’s Imperial College, published in the journal Science, found that swine flu has ‘full pandemic potential’, spreading easily from person to person.
But the research’s author, Professor Neil Ferguson, said it was too early to say whether the virus will cause deaths on a massive scale, or prove little more lethal than normal seasonal flu.
Its full impact on the UK is not likely to be known until the annual flu season in the autumn and winter, when a ‘really major epidemic’ can be expected in the northern hemisphere.
Swine flu is certainly milder than the Spanish flu which caused an estimated 50 million deaths in 1918, but it is not yet possible to say whether it will kill more than the most recent pandemics in 1957 and 1968, he said.
Professor Ferguson, who sits on the World Health Organisation’s emergency committee for the outbreak, said the international community should decide this week whether to switch vaccine-production capacity away from seasonal flu to concentrate on swine flu.