A FLU pandemic has been put to the top of the list of “risks” facing Cumbria.

The “worst-case scenario” could see half of Cumbria’s 500,000 population affected, a report said.

That would lead to “unprecedented” demand on the emergency services and local councils, it found.

Although rare, councils have had to consider the impact of flu pandemic as part of their business continuity plans if disaster struck.

The risk of a flu pandemic in Cumbria has been ranked “very high” alongside river flooding and a failure of the National Grid.

Last summer, a multi-agency exercise took place in July to examine how the authorities in Cumbria would react to an outbreak. A report is being prepared with recommendations for action.

A report to South Lakeland District Council said flu pandemic posed a high risk because any new virus would be an “unknown quantity”.

“Therefore people will have no immunity and effective antivirals may not be available for six months,” the report warned.

It added: “Flu pandemic would place an unprecedented demand on local authorities, police, coroners and undertakers. It is likely that schools would be closed.”

They expect that several “waves” of outbreaks could affect 10 to 12 percent of the population every week, or 30 to 35 percent of staff in businesses.

Councils, in particular, are concerned that they would be affected by high staff absences when demand for services would increase.

But if a pandemic hit the county, councils would be unable to rely on help from other areas of Cumbria which would be similarly affected.

Cllr Mark Wilson, a Labour councillor for Ulverston East, said a flu pandemic would be “horrific”.

He suggested council staff get flu jabs in preparation, although they would not provide immunity against any new strains of virus.

Officials said finding an antidote could take as long as six months.

Cumbria County Council has a resilience unit based at Cumbria Fire and Rescue headquarters in Penrith.

The county also has a Cumbria Resilience Forum which has a “well-established” Cumbria Emergency Plan.

It said it had specific plans for “very high and high risks,” which included a  pandemic influenza plan and floods.

The organisations involved in the forum include police, ambulance, fire service, local councils, NHS England, the Environment Agency and the Maritime and Coastguard Agency. It regularly trains together and runs exercises.

The World Health Organisation published a Global Influenza Strategy last month. It stated: “The next influenza pandemic is a matter of when not if, and a

severe pandemic is believed by many experts to be potentially the most devastating global health event with far-reaching consequences.”