Posted on August 28th, 2009 No comments
A seventh person has died from swine flu in Scotland.
The 52-year-old man died in Edinburgh’s Western General Hospital and had “significant” underlying health problems.
It brings the total number of deaths in the UK from swine flu up to 66.
Scottish Health Secretary Nicola Sturgeon said: “I extend my sincere condolences to the patient’s family and friends at this very sad time.
“As we have seen in previous cases, this patient was suffering from underlying health conditions and his death should not cause alarm among the general population.”
Posted on August 28th, 2009 No comments
Anti-viral prescriptions for swine flu in Northern Ireland have fallen to 577 from 1,059 over the last week, the Department of Health has said.
The Department said GP consultations for flu have fallen, but they remain significantly higher than last year.
So far 47 people have received hospital treatment in NI for swine flu, with nine admissions last week.
There were 25 new cases of confirmed swine flu during the week, with 145 confirmed since the outbreak began.
There has been one death related to swine flu.
NI’s Chief Medical Officer, Dr Michael McBride said the number of GP contacts had fallen for the third week in a row.
“Primary care services continue to cope well despite the increased demand on their services,” she said.
“If you think you have swine flu stay at home, please do not visit your GP practice, pharmacy or A&E in person.
“People with underlying health conditions who are at higher risk of complications if they develop influenza should call their GP for advice and assessment for antivirals.
“This includes people with long-term conditions such as diabetes or chronic lung disease. In addition, pregnant women who develop flu-like symptoms should phone their GP promptly. Likewise, parents of children under five years should call their doctor if their child develops flu-like symptoms.”
Across the UK the number of new cases of swine-flu are falling.
Department of Health figures show that in the past week there were 5,000 infections in England – compared to over 100,000 at the start of the month.
However, the UK’s Chief Medical Officer Sir Liam Donaldson said the NHS and wider public must not be lulled into thinking the worst had passed.
“The health service needs to be on top of its game.
“It is normally a mild illness, but for some it continues to be very serious.
“We don’t know what will happen next, but our best guess is that we will get some kind of rise during our flu season.”
Posted on August 25th, 2009 No comments
Several newspapers have reported that the World Health Organization has changed its advice regarding use of antivirals for swine flu. The advice suggests that while antivirals should always be given in serious cases, they may not always be necessary for otherwise healthy people.
The papers pointed out that this differs from the approach taken in the UK, where Tamiflu is being widely used.
However, the Department of Health has said:
“We believe a safety-first approach of offering antivirals, when required, to everyone remains a sensible and responsible way forward. However, we will keep this policy under review as we learn more about the virus and its effects.
“The WHO recommendations are in fact in line with UK policy on antivirals. We have consistently said that many people with swine flu only get mild symptoms, and they may find bed rest and over-the-counter flu remedies work for them.”
There has been another sharp fall in UK cases of swine flu, with an estimated 11,000 new infections in the past week, down from 25,000 the week before. This week has also seen a further 10 deaths related to swine flu in England. With five deaths in Scotland and one in Northern Ireland, the UK total is now 60.
Despite the fall in cases the Sir Liam Donaldson, Chief Medical Officer, expects there to be a second wave of infections later in the year, speculating that the spread of swine flu could be similar to that of previous pandemics, which featured huge surges during the autumn and winter months. Equally, the new virus might behave unpredictably and follow an unknown pattern of its own.
Although case numbers have dropped, he also reiterated that swine flu still poses a danger, saying that “it isn’t a severe illness for the vast majority but it is for some and a small proportion of those, even healthy people, will die.”
Vaccinations for the vulnerable
The secretary of state for health has confirmed which priority groups will be given the first doses of swine flu vaccine, which is expected to arrive in October.
Andy Burnham said that the earliest doses of the vaccine would be given to at-risk groups in the following order:
- People aged between six months and 65 years in the clinically at-risk groups for seasonal flu
- Pregnant women, subject to licensing by the European Medicines Agency, which will indicate whether it can be given throughout pregnancy or only at certain stages of pregnancy
- Household contacts of people with compromised immune systems
- People aged 65 and over in the current seasonal flu vaccine clinical at-risk groups
The health secretary said: “Although the virus has so far proved to be mild in most people, for others it has been more serious. By vaccinating high-risk groups first, we aim to protect those most vulnerable to this virus”. He also confirmed that frontline health and social care workers will also begin to be vaccinated at the same time as the first at-risk group.
At-risk groups will be the same as for seasonal flu vaccination, and include people with serious heart disease, diabetes, and those with weakened immune systems due to cancer treatment.
The list has been drawn up according to advice from independent experts at the Joint Committee on Vaccination and Immunisation, which reviewed the evidence and advised the Department of Health on the crucial risk groups to be offered vaccination to help prevent serious illness.
A vaccination programme for the rest of the population will be based on the evolution of the pandemic as well as new clinical data on the use of the vaccine.
People in the priority groups outlined above do not need to take any action yet. Further announcements will be made as the vaccination strategy progresses, and those who need a vaccine will be contacted.
Weekly pandemic flu update
Other key points made in the latest briefing by the chief medical officer (CMO) included:
- There has been a further reduction in the rates of flu-like illness and related activity this week. There were an estimated 11,000 new cases this week compared to 25,000 new cases last week.
- Weekly GP consultation rates decreased over the last week in England.
- There are 263 patients in hospital with swine flu, 30 of whom are in critical care.
- There have been 54 confirmed deaths in England.
- There is still no sign of the virus mutating into a more dangerous form, or developing resistance to drugs.
The World Health Organization (WHO) confirmed last week that the first swine flu vaccines are likely to be licensed for use in the general population in September. Initial batches of an H1N1 vaccine have already been produced, and clinical trials are underway.
“The quality controls on today’s vaccine are much better than they were 30 years ago,” said the WHO, which also oversees the safety checks on the seasonal flu jab.
Posted on August 22nd, 2009 No comments
No safety issues have come up yet in clinical trials of the swine flu vaccine, health officials announced today.
Clinical trials of the vaccine in adults began recently, and so far, there have been “no red flags” of safety concerns, Anthony Fauci, MD, director of the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases, said today in a news conference
Based on those early reports, clinical trials have begun in children ages 6 months to 17 years, Fauci said.
Results of the clinical trials are still several weeks away, and more trials will begin in September to test the vaccine in pregnant women, who are a high-risk group for swine flu complications.
At today’s news conference, CDC officials also reported that nearly 8,000 hospitalizations and 522 deaths in the U.S. have been confirmed as caused by the H1N1 swine flu virus.
Flu activity is at a low level in the U.S. but flu is widespread in two states: Alaska and Maine. Most of the flu in the U.S. is swine flu right now, as the regular flu season hasn’t begun yet.
Swine flu “continues to disproportionately affect younger persons,” said Jay Butler, MD, director of the CDC’s H1N1 task force. Butler noted that in the U.S., 75% of swine flu hospitalizations and 60% of swine flu deaths have been in people younger than 49.
Asked about that in today’s press call, Butler said an “explosion” of cases would be one of the worst-case scenarios that health officials are preparing for, but that it’s not certain to happen.
“Whether or not it will be an ‘explosion,’ we really can’t say,” said Butler, stressing the unpredictability of flu viruses.
Butler and Fauci noted that more cases are likely in the fall and winter, as children head back to school and as the weather turns colder. “Hopefully it’s not going to be bad but we’ll be prepared for it,” Fauci said.
Posted on August 18th, 2009 No comments
As schoolchildren return to class this fall, they’ll find that any trace of a feverish forehead or deep cough could quickly land them in the nurse’s office with a call home to pick them up.
Officials worry that a surge of swine flu – coupled with the annual return of seasonal flu – just as the school year begins could be an educational and health nightmare. As a precaution, school administrators are quickly changing how they handle sick children.
Students who report for class with a temperature of more than 100 degrees will be sent home without exception and not permitted to return until a day after the fever breaks. School nurses will track absenteeism and report kids’ symptoms to county health departments, a practice that began last spring when the virus first emerged. Teachers, aides and cafeteria servers will continue to drill students in common-sense precautions such as washing hands and covering coughs.
While much about the emergent H1N1 strain remains a mystery, so far it has hit young children especially hard. School officials and health experts are responding with a call for vigilance in the classroom and at home.
“We’re on alert,” said Ellen Wolff, health services supervisor with Naperville School District 203. “It’s so much of an unknown right now.”
Just before lunch Friday, nearly two dozen 1st graders extended their tiny palms for a squirt of hand sanitizer before heading toward the Elgin school cafeteria, their clean hands pressed to their sides.
Sheridan Elementary School teacher Maribel Andino gave instructions as she put a dollop of the cleansing liquid onto each outstretched palm and demonstrated how to make effective use of it.
“Solo en las manos, si? Only in your hands,” Andino said. “Show me how you do it. Not in your hair, not in your eyes. Now rub your hands together.”
In addition to expanding its use of hand sanitizers, the Elgin district stepped up surveillance of flulike symptoms. District officials made clear to parents that a fever-ridden child with the tell tale flu symptoms will not be permitted to stay in school.
“Prior to H1N1, if a student came to school with a fever, it may or may not have been noted. There’s nothing to say a child would be sent home,” said district spokesman Tony Sanders. “With this new strain, if a student comes to school with a fever greater than 100, they will be sent home and parents will be contacted.”
Unlike the seasonal flu, which typically dies off in the summer, the H1N1, or swine flu, strain that emerged last spring continues to spread. To date, 3,443 cases have been confirmed or identified in Illinois, nearly 60 percent of them striking school-age people 5 to 24, according to the state Department of Public Health. Nine of every 10 confirmed infections have been clustered in Chicago and the surrounding counties.
The spread shows no sign of slowing. Indeed, the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention anticipates more illness after the school year begins because the flu typically spreads more easily during fall and winter.
“As far as being a bellwether and a potential hot spot for epidemics, schools are probably No. 1 on the list,” said Bill Mays, community health director with the Lake County Health Department.
How schools handle the virus is shaped by health experts. Last spring, when the first cases were diagnosed in the U.S., the federal government urged schools to shut down for up to 14 days if they had a confirmed case. More than 700 schools in the nation closed, including nearly three dozen in the Chicago area.
But schools this year likely will be slower to call off classes, based on new information. The CDC now says schools should be conservative about closing entirely. The agency instead urges parents to check their children each morning for flulike symptoms and keep them home from school if they have a fever.
What’s more, the CDC has changed its recommendation about when students can return to class after a bout of swine flu. Previously, it said that students with confirmed cases should stay home for up to seven days. Now it’s saying that students can return to class 24 hours after the fever ends.
“We can’t stop the tide of flu, but we can reduce the number of people who become very ill by preparing well and acting effectively,” said Dr. Thomas Frieden, director of the CDC.
School nurses will be at the forefront of efforts to stop the spread of swine flu. Illinois, however, lags behind most states in the number of school nurses available. Illinois has 2,893 students per school nurse — a ratio that’s 46th in the nation — according to the National Association of School Nurses.
In Barrington, school nurses will continue to work with classroom teachers to reinforce lessons about hand-washing and covering coughs. One teaching tool they employ is an ultraviolet light that allows elementary students to put their hands underneath and see what germs did not get scrubbed away, said district nursing supervisor Eva Dettloff.
“We ask staff to enforce hand-washing and to remind kids when they perhaps need to wash their hands,” Dettloff said.
Chicago Public Schools again will look for suspicious attendance dips to identify schools that may be affected by swine flu.
Any student with a temperature more than 100 degrees will be sent home, but the district is working with the city health department to determine what other symptoms might trigger a dismissal from class, said district spokeswoman Monique Bond.
One factor that’s still in play is a possible swine flu vaccine. It is being tested, but it likely won’t be available until weeks after students return to class. School-age children are expected to be among those given first access to the vaccine.
The national health agency also recommends seasonal flu shots for all children older than 6 months. Many schools plan to host health fairs and promote the annual flu shot among employees.
The common flu vaccine cannot guard against swine flu, but it can avoid confusing a routine illness with the more serious H1N1 infection.
“You can’t tell a difference between seasonal flu and H1N1 by the symptoms,” said spokeswoman Melaney Arnold with the Illinois Department of Public Health. “If we build up a better protection to the seasonal influenza, it will cut down on the number of people needing to go the hospitals for H1N1.”
Elise Hauptman typically skips the annual flu shots for her three children. But this year, the Vernon Hills mother insisted on the vaccine for her 6th grader and 4th-grade twins.
“There’s no monkeying around,” Hauptman said. “We’re doing it this time.”
Posted on August 15th, 2009 No comments
Parents talking on the internet forums have expressed some concern about the H1N1 vaccine that will be offered to children and adults with underlying health conditions and pregnant women as priorities.
Fears raised include its safety for pregnant women, whether the vaccine has been tested enough and the fact one of them contains a controversial mercury preservative. One mum posted: “Absolutely no way would I allow my son to be vaccinated, he’s not a guinea pig.”
Another said: “This strain seems to be mild but they are predicting that the second strain will be alot worse especially with it being flu season. Plus if it mutates we could be in serious trouble if we are not vaccinated.”
Justine Roberts, Co-founder of mumsnet.com said: “Lots of mums on Mumsnet are questioning whether giving the swine flu vaccine to their children is a good idea. Some are worried about how well it’s been tested, others about it’s effectiveness and side effects.”
The GlaxoSmithKline vaccine contains thiomersal which was linked to neurological disorders and autism in the 1990s but has since been extensive tested and no evidence of harm has been found.
Its use was phased out of most vaccines, however it is being used in the GSK vaccine to make it last longer and avoid wastage.
Prof David Salisbury, head of immunisation at the Department of Health, said the vaccines will arrive in vials containing about ten doses as it is not feasible to produce or store single-dose preloaded syringes on the scale needed to vaccine the 11m people who will be offered the vaccine between October and December.
He said, if only one or two doses in a vial are used on one day the GSK vaccine can be stored overnight in the fridge and the remaining doses used the next day. However the Baxter vaccine, which does not contain thiomersal, would have to be thrown away if the whole vial’s contents were not used within three hours, he added.
Pregnant women on the forums had mixed views with some saying they are eager to be vaccinated against swine flu while others were circumspect.
Prof Salisbury said the vaccine will be offered to pregnant women who are at greater risk of complications if they contract flu, data from Britain and America has shown.
The European Medicines Agency will decide on whether the vaccine is offered to women at all stages of pregnancy or only in the second or third trimester when the risks of swine flu to both mother and baby are higher.
Prof Salisbury said concerns about vaccines during pregnancy are based on theorectical risks that a live virus vaccine could affect the feotus but extensive tested with the rubella vaccine had not found any evidence of this. He added that the H1N1 vaccines are not live anyway but contain an inactivated version of swine flu.
He said: “We are taking a sensible approach to vaccinate people who are at greatest risk from swine flu first. For people with risk factors the flu may not be mild at all.”
He said the products are based on pre-pandemic vaccines using the H5N1 bird flu virus, which have been extensively trialled. The manufacturers have then switched the flu H5N1 flu strain for the current H1N1 swine flu change, in the same way as the seasonal flu vaccines are altered each year to match the current circulating strain.
In addition to this new trials are now beginning using the H1N1 vaccines covering all age groups.
A spokesman for GlaxoSmithKline said: “The World Health Organisation has recommended that for vaccines which come in multidose vials, manufacturers use a preservative to enable doctors to withdraw several doses from the same vial.
“There have been many studies conducted over decades of research which suggest that thiomersal has a good safety profile and is well tolerated. It is essential that a preservative is used in vaccines such as this to avoid wastage.”
He said there was no alternative to thiomersal as a preservative for vaccines of this kind.
Posted on August 14th, 2009 No comments
The Government has announced that pregnant women and those suffering from asthma, diabetes and heart disease will be among the first in the country to be given the swine flu vaccine.More than 13 million people are in the groups to be vaccinated first in October, and first in the queue will be those aged six months to 65, including people with asthma, diabetes, heart or renal disease.
They will be followed by all pregnant women, subject to licensing arrangements on the most suitable trimester to give the jab, before patients with compromised immune systems are vaccinated.
Next will be anyone over 65 in an at-risk group, but healthy people of any age will not be given the jab in the coming months. However, frontline health workers will get the jab.
In total, some 9.4 million people in England will receive the vaccine if they fall into priority groups.
Chief Medical Officer Sir Liam Donaldson said it was a “difficult decision” but groups had to be prioritised.
He said the Government would monitor the virus as the UK approached winter. He added that there was not enough vaccine to include healthy people at present.
Posted on August 11th, 2009 No comments
Experts say children should not be given the swine flu drug Tamiflu because the negative effects could outweigh the benefits.The Department of Health is under pressure to hold an urgent rethink of its current policy.
The study found that Tamiflu caused vomiting in some children, which can lead to dehydration and complications.
The drug also had little or no effect on asthma flare-ups, ear infections or the likelihood of a youngster needing antibiotics.
Dr Carl Henegan, a GP and expert from the John Radcliffe Hospital in Oxford, said the current policy of giving Tamiflu for mild illness was an “inappropriate strategy”.
He added: “The downside of the harms outweigh the one-day reduction in symptomatic benefits.”
The study comes little over a week after other research found that children given Tamiflu preventatively reported side-effects including nausea and nightmares.
Posted on August 10th, 2009 No comments
A teenager who hoped to become a doctor has died after contracting swine flu.
Madelynne Butcher, 18, fell ill after returning from a holiday in Tenerife to celebrate finishing her exams. She had been due to study biology at the University of East Anglia.
The student, from Sholing in Southampton, became sick and short of breath and was eventually taken to Southampton General Hospital.
A post-mortem examination has yet to establish the exact cause of death, but Miss Butcher had been diagnosed as having swine flu by doctors in Southampton and had been prescribed the antiviral Tamiflu.
Her mother, Beverley Butcher told The Daily Echo: “She loved every minute of life. Madelynne was so adorable, everyone who met her thought so and that’s what all her friends have been saying.”
A total of 36 people in the UK have died after getting swine flu.
Posted on August 7th, 2009 No comments
The number of deaths in England linked to swine flu jumped by nine to 36 in the past week, the Health Protection Agency (HPA) said.
But the overall number of cases “decreased significantly” in the past seven days and there is no evidence that the virus is mutating.
The HPA, at a briefing in London, said 530 patients had been admitted to hospital in England – down on last week’s total of 793.
The HPA estimated there were 30,000 new cases of swine flu in England, but said the majority of cases continued to be “mild”.
“There is no sign that the virus is changing,” said the HPA.
“It is not becoming more severe or developing resistance to anti-virals.”
The number of weekly GP consultations dropped over the past week, coinciding with the launch of the National Pandemic Flu Service.