Healthy living

Swine flu "lucky break" for UK

Zone default image Cases still rising, but at a slower rate

Chief Medical Officer Sir Liam Donaldson said the UK may have had a "lucky break," as the latest swine flu figures suggest the second wave is proceeding at a slower pace than expected.

Last week an estimated 18,000 people were infected with swine flu compared with 14,000 in the previous week.

Children and young people in the 5-14 and 15-24 years age groups continue to bare the brunt of new infections.

Although the number of new swine flu cases has steadily risen since the schools opened for the autumn term, the increase in new cases appears to be occurring at a slower rate than expected.

"We are well into the second wave of pandemic flu, having had the first wave in July, but it's proving to be a slow burner, " Sir Liam said.

"It's possible that it might peak at a lower level and an earlier level than expected, which would be incredibly positive news, he added.

The slowdown in the pandemic will also give the government more time to vaccinate people most at risk of severe disease - due to start in October. It may also help avert a future peak or surge in new cases, as was seen in the 1968 flu pandemic.

"We may have got a lucky break in how the virus has behaved at the start of our flu season and we may be able to get the vaccine out there before our flu season gets under way. I'm looking at it very optimistically," Sir Liam said.

The latest figures from the Health Protection Agency show that a total of 520 people were admitted to hospital in the last week with flu like illness, compared with 467 the week before. The highest hospitalisation rates continue to be in the under-5 age group.

The number of deaths linked to the virus now stands at 89; 76 in England, 10 in Scotland, 2 in Northern Ireland and 1 in Wales.

The number of people visiting their GPs with flu-like illness in England has risen from 22.2 to 26.3 consultations per 100,000 people, with the highest rates occurring in 5 - 14 year olds. At least 37 schools have had flu outbreaks which have been virologically confirmed by the HPA.

Both Scotland and N. Ireland saw a decline in GP consultation rates.

According to the HPA, most infections caused by the H1N1 virus continue to be mild, though they can be severe in a minority of people.

This article was published on Fri 9 October 2009



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


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