FAR North MSP Jamie Stone yesterday criticised a decision by the region's health authority not to identify the area of the Highlands where a suspected case of swine flu is being investigated.
The Caithness, Sutherland and Easter Ross MSP said: "The Highlands is a huge area and the uncertainty as to where the person lives is unhelpful.
"People are not afraid of the facts and it would be helpful if we knew where the person was. It would mean other parts of the Highlands could relax, knowing the suspected case is not in their area."
The Liberal Democrat politician was speaking after NHS Highland confirmed that one of 32 suspected cases in Scotland is in Highland. A spokeswoman for the health authority said the person's condition is "not giving cause for concern". She said: "The person is being treated at home and the situation is being monitored daily. Samples have been taken and the results are awaited."
Asked if the suspected case is in Caithness, the spokeswoman replied: "We will not be confirming where in Highland our one suspected case is. If, at a later date, this information is required as a matter of public health we will be updating people but, at the moment, we are only confirming we have one suspected case in Highland."
The John O'Groat Journal has been told by an informed source that the suspected case is not in Caithness, although it is understood that two local people returned from holiday in Mexico – where around 170 people have died from swine flu – relatively recently and had symptoms of the virus. They received anti-viral treatment but tests later showed they did not have swine flu.
The NHS Highland spokeswoman said: "We are monitoring the situation in relation to swine flu closely and are liaising with colleagues in partner organisations. We are in close contact with the Scottish Government and Health Protection Scotland.
"Our pandemic influenza plan is in place and we're ready to take any action that is required. Information has been issued to clinical staff, including all GP practices and out-of-hours services. This includes arrangements for the provision of anti-viral drugs for treatment."
NHS Highland has advised anyone returning from Mexico, California, Texas, Kansas, New York City, Ohio or any other affected area who has experienced one or more symptoms within seven days of returning home to seek medical advice by calling their doctor during the day or contacting NHS 24 on 08454 242424 out of hours.
The symptoms include fever, a cough or runny nose, sore throat, body aches, chills and fatigue, as well as vomiting or diarrhoea – not typical for influenza but reported by some cases of swine flu.
The news of the suspected case in the Highlands came as the World Health Organisation raised the alert level to five – its second highest, and just one short of declaring a pandemic. The announcement was made after the number of countries with confirmed cases of the virus rose to nine.
Three new cases have been confirmed in Britain – two adults in London and Birmingham, and a 12-year-old girl in Devon who recently returned from Mexico – bringing the total to eight.
Two cases were confirmed in Scotland after tests showed that a couple from the Falkirk area had swine fever. The newlyweds, who returned last week after a honeymoon in Mexico, responded well to treatment and have been discharged from Monklands Hospital in Lanarkshire.
The 32 suspected swine flu cases identified in Scotland are in the Forth Valley, Grampian, Lothian, Lanarkshire, Greater Glasgow and Clyde, Ayrshire and Arran and Highland health board areas. All the cases have travel links with Mexico or other affected countries.
The first death outside Mexico was confirmed in the US this week when health officials revealed that a child had died of swine flu in Texas.
Meanwhile, Jamie Stone has called on the Scottish Government to investigate over-the-counter sales of Tamiflu. He asked the Scottish Government to consider making the anti-viral drug available over the counter to help prevent the spread of swine flu.
Mr Stone pointed out that from today (Friday) people in New Zealand with flu symptoms will be able to buy the drug over the counter in pharmacies in a move designed to prevent the spread of flu that coincides with their winter.
"Given that a swine flu vaccine is unlikely to be ready for four to six months, I think it is worth the Scottish Government looking at New Zealand's approach of making Tamiflu available over the counter after a consultation with qualified pharmacists to try and stop the spread of flu," the MSP said.
"In addition to helping prevent flu, it could also potentially stop the mad rush for online sales of Tamiflu that are illegal, often very expensive, and potentially dangerous to some individuals. With the threat of a pandemic increasing by the day I believe the New Zealand approach is worth some investigation."
Leaflets with information about swine flu are to be sent to every household in the UK while a print, television and radio advertising campaign was being launched yesterday.
A dedicated swine flu advice line for Scotland was due to go live yesterday afternoon. The line will be accessed through NHS 24 and give information about swine flu and what to do if people have concerns.
Callers to the NHS 24 number 08454 24 24 24 will be given the option of being put straight through to a dedicated team dealing with swine flu.