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UK: Swine flu battle moves to cyberspace

Thu Aug 20 04:14:36 EST 2009

LONDON, Aug 19 AFP - The clock is ticking, people are dying and a flu virus is sweeping the globe - that is the scenario of a new computer game designed to make people think about how to respond to the swine flu pandemic.

In The Great Flu, players must choose whether or not to stockpile anti-viral drugs and deploy research teams to new areas of outbreak as the number of infections and deaths rises and more countries are affected.

Players face tough choices with limited funds - and taking decisions such as closing major airports does not come cheap.

The game's creators at the Erasmus Medical Centre in the Dutch city of Rotterdam say the online game is "another avenue of information" about viruses and should not be seen as a substitute for medical advice.

Deborah MacKenzie, a consultant, writing on the New Scientist website, said she found the game was flawed because it was unclear what effect the action that players took had on the virus.

"But if the current swine flu pandemic gets bad and schools close in the fall, there are going to be a lot of teenagers sitting at home with not much to do, and with luck this could breed up a generation of officials that does understand," she said.

The current outbreak of swine flu, or the A(H1N1) virus, has killed more than 1450 people worldwide and infected more than 177,000, but that figure understates the full number, since individual cases are no longer reported.

The World Health Organisation, which declared the virus a pandemic said this week infections were starting to decline in the southern hemisphere but picking up in several Asian countries.