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.