A breastfeeding mother who contracted swine flu, together with her husband and their eldest daughter, believes her youngest child was spared the virus because she was breast fed.

Rosemarie Azzopardi said that when she got sick and took antiviral drugs she decided to keep breastfeeding her two-and-a-half year old daughter and, that way, transmitted her immunity to the child.

"People sometimes pass comments because I still breastfeed but, this way, I helped my daughter who falls within the vulnerable group of potential swine flu victims," she said, taking the opportunity to advocate the importance of breastfeeding.

Ray Busuttil, the director general for health, said breastfeeding should not stop if a mother contracted swine flu. Although the child was still at risk, just like anyone else, the breast milk gave the baby stronger immunity to the H1N1 virus.

To date, 92 people have been diagnosed with swine flu in Malta and Ms Azzopardi is one of the 73 of who have already recovered.

Speaking during a press conference on swine flu yesterday, she said being diagnosed with the flu had initially worried her because public misconceptions made it out to be much worse than it actually was.

"It's really just a flu. I've been much worse in the past when I suffered from the normal influenza," she said.

She was diagnosed on July 5 after catching the flu from her husband who had just returned from Spain with his friends. When she realised her husband had it she was particularly worried about her two young daughters. And when the health authorities confirmed she too had caught it, she locked herself in a room for fear of transmitting the virus to the children.

Her health improved within three days of being administered antivirals. Her eight-year-old also got the flu and is fine today while her youngest was spared thanks to her breast milk, she believes.

Nigel Lightfoot, chief adviser to the head of the UK's influenza programme, praised the health care system in Malta, calling on people to stay at home if they had flu-like symptoms and to seek medical advice.

Prof. Lightfoot, who is married to a Maltese and is in Malta on holiday, interrupted his break to meet local experts and share his experience.

He said assumption-based predictions indicated that about 16 per cent of the UK population would have contracted swine flu within the next few months and 30 per cent would catch it in winter. Such figures could also apply to Malta, he added.

The number of swine flu cases in the UK hit 55,000 last week and 29 people have died so far, the vast majority having been suffering from underlying medical conditions. As was done in many EU countries, the Maltese government has moved from containment stage to mitigation, focusing on reducing the impact of the illness on patients instead of trying to contain its spread.

Since then, only vulnerable people - children under five, pregnant women and people with chronic illnesses such as heart, respiratory and kidney problems - have been tested.

Healthy adults would be able to fight the virus without the need of intervention in the form of the antiviral Tamiflu.

Dr Busuttil said there was no link between mortality and intervention because the mortality rate, which ranged between 0.1 and 0.3 per cent in the UK and US respectively, was related to the severity of the virus.

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