Posted on July 31st, 2009 No comments
New cases of swine flu may be plateauing with an estimated 110,000 people diagnosed with the disease last week.
Up until now cases have been doubling weekly, but there was just a 10 per cent rise in the estimated new swine flu diagnoses in the seven days until July 26th.
An estimated one in every 158 people in England are thought to have had swine flu since the outbreak began in England at the end of April.
Children under the age of one are ten times more likely to have contracted the virus than people over the age of 75, underlining that younger people are at greater risk than the elderly from H1N1.
One in 90 children under the age of one are thought to have had the disease compared with one in 833 of the over 75s.
So far in England there have been 27 deaths in people confirmed to have swine flu, a quarter of which have been in children under 14. Four of the deaths have been in previously healthy people.
A spokesman for NHS London said 15 of the deaths had been in the capital including an eight-year-old girl who died on Sunday July 26th.
Around 150,000 courses of Tamiflu have been given out by the National Flu Pandemic Service although it is not clear how many of these patients will actually have had swine flu or how much overlap there has been with those people also going to their GP.
Officials said it was not possible to add the total number of people seeking help from the Flu Service to the estimated cases derived from GP appointments about flu.
GP consultation rates about flu-like illness dropped from 155 per 100,000 people to 138 last week. Consultations about flu have dropped in all age groups and the number of people in hospital has also dropped from 840 with 63 in intensive care to 746 with 81 in intensive care.
Sir Liam Donaldson, Chief Medical Officer, said there were a number of factors that suggested a downturn in cases but a large surge in patients is still expected in the Autumn.
“There is a growing impression that we have had a peak for the time being. That does not mean it won’t come back again soon or that it won’t come back again in the autumn which we still strongly suspect.
“There is a possibility the virus has had its fill of us for the moment.”
Health Secretary Andy Burnham said: “There are early signs that the rate of increase in swine flu infections may be slowing down.
“This is encouraging, but there will be no let-up in our preparations. Even if the number of infections starts to fall, they may rise again, possibly much faster, as we enter the main flu season in the autumn.
“There are two key areas; critical care and vaccination strategy, where we need to finalise our plans to ensure that we are on a sound footing going into Autumn.”
He said the ten Health Authorities in England have been asked to draw up plans by the end of August to increase critical care bed capacity in preparation for an expected surge in cases in the autumn after a report from the House of Lords questioned whether the NHS could cope with a second wave of the pandemic.
The first batches of the H1N1 vaccine are due to arrive in Britain in August with enough for half the population due to be delivered by the end of the year. Mr Burnham said the vaccination programme with details about which groups of people will be given priority for the vaccine will be published by the end of August.
An editorial in The Lancet medical journal said the vaccine will have to be monitored closely after it is introduced to ensure any side effects are detected quickly. All vaccines are monitored in this way in the UK but the editorial warned that the usual safety and efficacy data may not be required before the jab is approved.
The editorial said: “As well as availability, safety of an H1N1 vaccine is a concern. Many national regulatory agencies have set up fast-track approval processes for the H1N1 vaccine, which means that a vaccine might be licensed without the usual safety and efficacy data requirements.”
Advice to breastfeeding mothers has been clarified by the Department of Health after women reported to The Breastfeeding Network charity that their GP or midwife had told them to stop feeding their baby if they contracted swine flu.
Officials said the advice has not changed that women can safely continue to breastfeed while taking antiviral medication or can express milk if they feel too unwell to feed.
Lloyds pharmacy has announced that its online pharmacy is to supply the antiviral drug Tamiflu for £48.50 for ten 75mg capsules plus £4.95 postage and packing.
The official listed price for the NHS is £16.36.
Patients who are diagnosed with swine flu through the National Pandemic Flu Service can receive the drug for free.
Research has found that more than half of children taking Tamiflu reported some kind of side effect. The children were taking the drug as a preventive measure a fellow pupil contracted the virus. Side effects included nausea, stomach pain, sleeping problems, diarrhoea, poor concentration and nightmares.
Two servicemen in Afghanistan have had swine flu, the Ministry of Defence has said.
Posted on July 30th, 2009 No comments
Pregnant women with swine flu are four times more likely to be admitted to hospital than members of the general population, according to new research. The findings from the US suggest that pregnancy places women at extra risk of serious complications from the virus.
Fears about the flu threat to expectant mothers have been highlighted by the case of Sharon Pentleton, from Ayrshire, who is now receiving specialist care in Sweden.
She was flown to the Karolinska University Hospital in Stockholm after no beds were available at the only UK unit capable of treating her.
The new research was carried out by the US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, the American equivalent of the UK Health Protection Agency.
Posted on July 30th, 2009 No comments
The latest figures showing the number of people who have died from and been infected with swine flu are being released.It was estimated that 100,000 people had caught the virus last week and the number of deaths was put at 29.
The new statistics are expected to be much higher.
Children under the age of 15 accounted for a third of deaths with younger people more at risk than the elederly.
Research also revealed pregnant women are four times more likley to be admitted to hospital than members of the general population.
Posted on July 29th, 2009 No comments
The global death toll from swine flu has topped 1,000 as the virus sweeps around the world.
Latest figures published by the European Centre for Disease Prevention and Control (ECDC) in Stockholm show 1,012 deaths had been reported up to yesterday.
The figure is almost 200 higher than reported by the World Health Organisation. A spokesman for the ECDC said the organisation obtains its figures from ministry of health websites, which are more up to date, while the WHO has to await official notification of deaths.
Swine flu has spread to 30 of the 31 countries in the EU. Two more deaths were reported from Spain yesterday, bringing the country’s total to six deaths. With one death recorded in Hungary, the UK is the only other EU country where swine flu has so far proved fatal, causing 30 deaths up to last week.
Peers yesterday praised the British Government for stockpiling anti-viral drugs like Tamiflu sufficient for half the population and negotiating advance purchase agreements with pharmaceutical companies to supply a vaccine against swine flu for the whole population. But the House of Lords Science and Technology Committee criticised the late launch of the interim National Flu Pandemic Service last week, which had been due to be delivered and tested in the spring.
It also questioned whether there were enough intensive care beds to deal with the expected second wave of swine flu in the autumn. The Department of Health said intensive care bed capacity could be doubled “under a severe attack phase” by cancelling routine surgery, which occupies about half the beds.
Lord Sutherland, chairman of the committee, said: “While the Government have got some things right in preparing for a flu pandemic, such as the stockpiling of anti-virals, there are other areas where we appear to be under-prepared.”
Nurseries and childminders were urged yesterday to take soft toys away from children to stop the spread of swine flu.
Guidance published by the Department for Children, Schools and Families (DCSF) said hard toys should be cleaned after use as the virus can survive on hard surfaces. It added: “Try to avoid children sharing soft toys, as these are hard to clean adequately; you may find it easier to avoid using soft toys altogether.”
A DCSF spokesman said: “We are not suggesting taking all toys out of play settings, just to take care with the use of shared toys, which can be a way of spreading infection. This is about striking a sensible balance between continuing life as normal but also taking simple, common-sense steps to protect children.”
Professor Angus Nicoll, head of the Influenza Programme at ECDC, said Britain remained the hardest hit country in Europe for three reasons.
“Every virus has to start somewhere. You might as well ask why the West Midlands is worse affected than the East Midlands, or South Australia rather than the rest of the country.
“Secondly, in summer transmission of the virus is not that efficient. We are not seeing this thing moving as fast as in Australia and the southern part of South America. Other countries will catch up.
“Thirdly, the UK has stronger connections with other parts of the world through its position as an international travel hub. All the modelling shows viruses will tend to break out first in the UK before other European countries.”
In the US, the cities of Seattle, Chicago and New York are badly hit, but the towns of the Mid-West remain relatively unaffected. “Even in the cities of the Mid-West we are not finding much yet. It will come in the autumn.”
In Europe, Spain appears to have plateaued, while cases are creeping up in Germany, Professor Nicoll said. In France, Health Minister Roselyne Bachelot last week abandoned the country’s strategy of treating swine flu victims in hospital to curb the spread of the virus, acknowledging the disease had spread too far to be contained.
Professor Nicoll said he expected swine flu to peak in Britain within days, if it had not done so already, before returning in the autumn. He commended Britain’s “extraordinary effort” to prepare for the pandemic, which other countries had declined to follow. “They have said they are not going to attempt to delay the spread of the virus. They looked at what Britain had done and felt they could not follow it.”
Posted on July 28th, 2009 No comments
The World Health Organisation said Tuesday that it will consult experts on the way anti-viral drugs such as Tamiflu are used to tackle the swine flu pandemic, and possible drug resistance.
“In the coming days we’re having technical consultations by teleconference regarding antivirals,” said spokeswoman Aphaluck Bhatiasevi.
“But as of now WHO’s recommendations for use of antivirals has not changed,” she added.
“They will be looking at specifics related to antiviral resistance and use of oseltamivir. WHO’s recommendation for use of oseltamivir is for treatment,” she underlined.
Oseltamivir is the active ingredient of Tamiflu, one of two drugs the WHO recommends to treat influenza A(H1N1).
Different countries have gradually evolved different approaches on the use of Tamiflu — normally a prescription drug — and some have been distributing it more widely to fearful populations than others.
But some doctors have expressed fears that excessive use, especially for preventive purposes or to tackle mild symptoms, could lead to the development of wider drug resistance and reduce the effectiveness of Tamiflu.
Health officials in Canada recently identified a case of drug resistance, adding to cases in Denmark, Hong Kong and Japan.
Roche, the manufacturers of Tamiflu, has said it expects a 0.5 percent rate of case resistance based on clinical trials.
Posted on July 28th, 2009 No comments
Childminders and nurseries should take soft toys away from children to stop the spread of swine flu, according to official guidance.Soft toys ‘flu risk’, schools told
Sharing pencils, crayons and musical instruments should also be discouraged, and school assemblies avoided in the case of a pandemic, it says.
The guidance is contained in documents published by the Department for Children, Schools and Families on planning for a human flu pandemic.
The guides, which apply to swine flu, give advice on reducing the spread of infection.
One, for childminders, says: “Clean hard toys after use as the virus can survive on hard surfaces.
“Try to avoid children sharing soft toys, as these are hard to clean adequately; you may find it easier to avoid using soft toys altogether.”
A second guide for schools and nurseries says: “Discourage the sharing of pencils, crayons and pens during a pandemic.
“Encourage the wiping and cleaning of hands and objects when passing round objects like musical instruments or toys.
“Because of the difficulty in cleaning soft toys adequately, remove communal soft toys.
“Do not allow children to share wind instruments.”
Posted on July 24th, 2009 No comments
Around 100,000 new cases of swine flu were diagnosed in Britain in the last week, officials said Thursday, as millions rushed to consult a new website to identify symptoms and order drugs.
At least 30 deaths have so far been linked to swine flu here, 26 in England and four in Scotland, according to the latest update from the Department of Health.
The figure is unchanged on the previous week. A further 840 people are in hospital in England, including 63 in intensive care, chief medical officer Liam Donaldson told reporters.
The concern felt by many over swine flu was reflected in what the government said was “unprecedented demand” for the new site, which launched at 3:00 pm (1400 GMT) and was soon receiving 2,600 hits per second or 9.3 million an hour.
The website crashed within minutes of launching, according to media reports, but appeared to be working normally late Thursday.
Donaldson accepted that the rise in new cases — almost double last week’s figure of 55,000 — was a “substantial increase” but stressed the majority of patients suffer only mild symptoms.
He told the BBC many people were probably logging on to the site out of “curiosity”, adding : “It will calm down and then people with genuine flu symptoms will be able to use the system and they will get their drugs quickly and efficiently.”
Britain is the worst-hit country in Europe by the A(H1N1) virus, which was first identified in Mexico. It gave up attempts at containment early on and is now focusing on the best way to treat infected patients.
The new Internet and telephone service, which Prime Minister Gordon Brown has described as the first of its kind in the world, also allows prescription of drugs remotely.
Around 1,500 people are working on the telephone hotline, which can take over 200,000 calls per day.
However, the most serious cases — including pregnant women, people with health conditions and very young children — will be referred to a doctor.
Donaldson conceded last week that the system could be abused by those who wanted to stockpile Tamiflu, but noted each user could only be diagnosed once, and added: “We have to trust in the public that they won’t.”
On Thursday, he explained the lack of change in the death toll since last week was due to a new analysis process, which eliminated some people previously thought to have died from the virus and added an equal number of new cases.
“It is the same numerically but some have gone in and some have gone out,” Donaldson said, without giving exact numbers.
According to figures released Thursday, 16 percent of the deaths linked to the virus so far were in completely healthy people, which Donaldson described as “an encouraging figure, in that it is a minority”.
About 67 percent of the deaths were in people with severe health problems such as leukemia, 11 percent with moderate conditions such as diabetes and six percent in those with mild conditions such as high blood pressure.
Young people aged under 14 continue to be hit hardest by the virus. One third of the deaths so far have been among the under 15s.
Posted on July 23rd, 2009 No comments
The number of people who have died in the UK after contracting swine flu has reached at least 31, with new figures on the latest death toll due to be released within hours.
The information is also expected to show a rise in the number of people attending GP consultations and being treated in hospital.
Prime Minister Gordon Brown is seeking to reassure the public, saying an “enormous effort” is underway to ensure the UK is fully prepared for the pandemic.
The National Pandemic Flu Service, a telephone and online support network for the public, is set to go live by the end of the week. It aims to diagnose people who have swine flu and give them the opportunity to get antivirals direct from local centres.
Mr Brown said: “This, of course, will free up GPs’ and NHS time.”
Meanwhile pharmaceutical giant GlaxoSmithKline said it should begin shipping a swine flu vaccine by September.
The UK Government has ordered a total of 132 million doses – two per person – from both Glaxo and another producer Baxter.
Posted on July 22nd, 2009 No comments
The number of people who have died in the UK after contracting swine flu has reached at least 31.
The latest patient died in the West Midlands and has yet to be identified. The individual had tested positive for swine flu but a cause of death has not yet been established.
Earlier, a 15-year-old girl – who had underlying medical conditions – died in the Royal Hospital for Sick Children in Glasgow. She is the fourth person with swine flu to have died in Scotland.
Health Secretary Nicola Sturgeon passed on condolences to her family, adding: “For the vast majority of people who have H1N1, they will experience relatively mild symptoms and make a full recovery.”
The deaths come as world health chiefs warned the virus was spreading faster than any previous flu pandemic.
The World Health Organisation (WHO) announced that more than 700 people worldwide are now thought to have died after contracting the virus. It is a huge jump from the 429 deaths reported on July 6.
In a briefing note published late last week, WHO said that “further spread of the pandemic, within affected countries and to new countries, is considered inevitable”.
It said the current pandemic “has spread internationally with unprecedented speed”.
In the UK, an estimated 55,000 people are being newly diagnosed with the virus each week.
The post-mortem examination results on a six-year-old girl from west London, released on Tuesday, showed she died of septic shock following a bout of tonsilitis.
Chloe Buckley died on July 9 at St Mary’s Hospital in Paddington after suffering from the throat infection, which was caused by streptococcus A bacterium.
It is not clear to what extent swine flu contributed to her death but she is known to have had the virus.
Liam Donaldson, the Chief Medical Officer for England, said it was unlikely there would be school closures in the autumn to curb swine flu.
The issue was being kept under review but past experience – such as in the West Midlands – had not shown this to be effective at controlling the virus.
Posted on July 22nd, 2009 No comments
A 15-year-old girl has died in hospital in Scotland after contracting swine flu.The girl died in the Royal Hospital for Sick Children in Glasgow and had underlying medical conditions, the Scottish Government said.
She is the fourth person with swine flu to have died in Scotland and the 30th in the UK.
The news comes after the World Health Organisation (WHO) announced that more than 700 people worldwide are now thought to have died after contracting the virus, which is spreading faster than any previous flu pandemic.
In the UK, an estimated 55,000 people are being newly diagnosed with the virus each week.
Earlier, the Chief Medical Officer for England said it was unlikely there would be school closures in the autumn to curb swine flu.
The latest WHO estimate on the number of worldwide deaths is a huge jump from the 429 deaths it reported on July 6.
In a briefing note published late last week, WHO said “further spread of the pandemic, within affected countries and to new countries, is considered inevitable”. It said the current pandemic “has spread internationally with unprecedented speed”.
He was speaking as experts argued that a school closure programme could “break the chains of transmission” and buy time to produce a vaccine.
Professor Neil Ferguson and Dr Simon Cauchemez, from the department of infectious disease epidemiology at Imperial College London, cited studies showing that closing schools at the height of a flu pandemic could cut the number of cases by up to 45 per cent.
Yesterday Health Secretary Andy Burnham said the National Pandemic Flu Service for England would be up and running by the end of this week “subject to testing” and that the NHS had dealt “fantastically well” with the virus.