Healthy living

Swine flu in the UK

The situation here in the UK

This article will be updated throughout the course of the swine flu outbreak in the UK, so please bookmark it and check regularly for changes and updates.

The World Health Organization (WHO) considers the UK to be one of the best prepared countries to deal with swine flu. That is just as well as we are also one of the most advanced in terms of the spread of the disease.

Extent of infection

At the time of writing in the UK there have been at least 29 deaths related to swine flu. So far only one has been of a person who did not have any other health conditions. However, this should not be lightly dismissed as the deaths might not have occurred had those who died not contracted swine flu.

There have also been around 55,000 reported cases of swine flu to date, although this figure is probably an underestimate due to the number of people who will contract swine flu and then exhibit mild or no symptoms and therefore not seek medical attention.

Comparison with seasonal flu

To put these figures in perspective, every year more than 10,000 people die as a result of contracting "normal" seasonal flu in the UK every year. Most of these people are in high risk groups, such as those over 65 or with existing medical conditions. However the UK government has suggested that deaths from swine flu this winter could be anything between 19,000 and 65,000.

The UK government has taken the issue of deaths from seasonal flu very seriously, with a national vaccination programme aimed at those at risk. This has achieved penetration levels of over 70% in those over 65. This may be one reason why this group has so far had low levels of infection with swine flu.

Current state of UK swine flu response

The UK health authorities have moved from a "containment" strategy, whereby each outbreak is identified and steps are taken to prevent it spreading any further such as closing schools, to a "treatment" phase where these attempts are no longer carried out. Instead, all resources have been shifted to treating cases where needed.

Antiviral drugs such as Tamiflu and Relenza are available and are being prescribed to those people in high risk groups or to others at their doctor's discretion.

Vaccination programme

The UK government has pre-ordered 30m double doses of vaccine, however the vaccine does not yet exist. It is expected to be available by August, however some experts doubt this. The government expects to have enough vaccine for at least 80% of the population by the end of the year.

UK compared to the rest of the world

The UK has one of the highest levels of infection outside the Americas. This is possibly because the UK is one of the most urbanized countries in the world with one of the highest population densities, especially in our urban areas. The UK is also a world travel hub, with millions of visitors every year coming from all over the world.

TheFamilyGP guide to swine flu

Action plan

For tips on how to be prepared for swine flu, and important contact numbers and sources of information.

Swine flu background

Risk groups

Progress of the disease

This article was published on Fri 17 July 2009

Image © CDC C. S. Goldsmith and A. Balish

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