Posted on September 18th, 2009 No comments
Swine flu looks to be on its way back, according to Sir Liam Donaldson, England’s chief medical officer.
Figures showed that there were an estimated 5,000 new cases in England last week – up from 3,000.
It is the first increase since the end of July, but the levels are still below what would be expected in a bad winter.
In Scotland, the numbers have nearly doubled to more than 6,000, although in Wales and Northern Ireland the figures are much lower.
Most of the rise in England is accounted for by school children with six schools reporting suspected outbreaks.
A second wave of swine flu had been predicted to hit the UK in the winter months following the summer lull.
Sir Liam said this now appeared to be happening.
He added: “It does begin to suggest swine flu is coming back.
“We would naturally have hoped for a bit more breathing space before it started again.”
He said the rise showed why it was important to get the vaccination programme under way quickly.
A deal has now been agreed with GPs, meaning the UK will be ready to roll out the programme as soon as regulators license the jab.
This is likely to happen in early October.
The number of deaths in the UK has also risen to 79 – four more than last week – with more than 150 people in hospital because of the virus.
Meanwhile, the Health Protection Agency has reported one confirmed case and one possible case of resistance to the flu drug Tamiflu.
There has been fewer than 30 cases like this worldwide with experts monitoring them for signs that the virus is mutating.
However, both of the UK cases showed no signs of passing the virus on so officials said they were not overly concerned.
Posted on September 11th, 2009 No comments
There has been another fall in the number of new swine flu cases in England, with an estimated 3,000 people catching the virus in the week to September 10. This is down from 5,000 the week before and 130,000 a week at the outbreak’s height.
In his weekly update, Sir Liam Donaldson, the Chief Medical Officer, also said that plans have been set in motion to ensure that critical care units in the UK would be ready to deal with a second wave of swine flu if it happened.
This includes doubling the number of critical care beds and ventilators and training more medical staff in critical care.
Measures that may be necessary to deal with a surge in people who are seriously ill with swine flu include temporarily postponing planned surgery, cancelling staff leave and placing older children in adult wards where appropriate.
Other announcements include:
- There continues to be a downward trend in new swine flu cases.
- There are 132 swine flu patients in hospital in England (as of 8am on September 9).
- A further five people with swine flu died in England in the last week, bringing the UK total to 75. So far there have been 66 deaths in England, seven deaths in Scotland, one in Wales and one in Northern Ireland.
- The majority of cases continue to be mild. There is still no sign that the virus is changing.
- Internationally, there have been 3,491 deaths related to swine flu.
- Many countries in the southern hemisphere have now passed the peak of their winter flu epidemic. Flu activity in Australia is now returning to normal levels and in total there have been 35,897 confirmed cases and 165 deaths.
Revised planning assumptions
It was announced on September 3 that estimates of deaths in the worst-case scenario for swine flu have been lowered. The government’s expert advisers on swine flu, the Scientific Advisory Group for Emergencies (SAGE), said that new data from the UK, North America, Australia and elsewhere give a better picture of how the virus might spread in the autumn.
The revised planning assumptions have cut the estimated death toll in a worst-case scenario from 65,000 people in the UK to 19,000, assuming that 30% of the population is infected.
These forecasts and others in the report are based on a “reasonable worst case” value and should not be taken as a prediction of how the pandemic will develop. Planning against the reasonable worst-case scenario will ensure, however, that plans for all likely scenarios are robust.
The Department of Health said: “In light of this new information, the estimates for the number of people who might need hospitalisation and the proportion of people with swine flu who could die have been reduced.”
Vaccination should cut hospitalisation
These new planning assumptions do not take account of the vaccination programme which, once it has begun, will help to further reduce the number of people needing hospitalisation. However, the department added, we must not be complacent. While in the majority of people it is mild, for some this virus can be a serious illness.
Advice for antivirals
Several newspapers reported that the World Health Organization (WHO) had changed its advice regarding use of antivirals for swine flu. Its 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 appeared to differ from the approach taken in the UK, where Tamiflu is being widely used.
However, the Department of Health 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.”
Vaccinations for the vulnerable
Andy Burnham, 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.
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 confirmed that frontline health and social care workers will begin to be vaccinated at the same time as the first at-risk group.
Posted on September 2nd, 2009 No comments
The first batch of swine flu vaccine has arrived in the UK, but it must sit in storage for more than a month while the manufacturers wait to see whether it will be given a licence, the chief medical officer said today.
The news of the delivery of around 200,000 packs of the vaccine came as it was announced that the UK death toll from swine flu has risen to 66 after 11 fatalities in the past week.
The vaccine packs made by Baxter Healthcare – one of two drug companies with whom the government has signed contracts – have been delivered ahead of the drugs being approved, in contrast to the normal process for new drugs and treatments.
The European Medicines Agency will now decide whether to licence this vaccine and one made by GlaxoSmithKline. Both manufacturers hope to have their licence by early October, which will mean the roll-out can begin later that month. The Department of Health will prioritise distribution to those most at risk from the flu, including those with conditions that make them vulnerable, such as diabetes and HIV, as well as health workers.
When the vaccine is available, many people may be reluctant to be immunised because of fears it has not been tested properly, recent surveys of health care workers and the public suggest.
A Canadian study published on Monday indicated that a successful vaccination campaign would need to win over people who believe that alternative therapies and a good diet are a better option than vaccines.
Today the chief medical officer, Sir Liam Donaldson, said the health professionals he had spoken to seemed to want the vaccine as soon as it became available. “It still remains the case that this disease is not a killer but it can kill,” he said.
While the vaccine sits in storage, the epidemic in the UK continues to abate.
Donaldson, who repeated warnings of a second wave of swine flu in the autumn, said the number of cases was currently down to what would be normal levels of flu if this was winter – although clearly this was abnormal for summer.
In the last week, the Health Protection Agency said there were an estimated 5,000 cases of swine flu - although the true figure could be anywhere between 3,000 and 12,000. There have been three swine flu deaths in England, seven in Scotland and one each in Wales and Northern Ireland over the last week. There were 218 people hospitalised with swine flu in the last week, which is a fall, but is high for the summer.
The weekly consultation rates at GP surgeries have risen in 11 primary care trusts but decreased in 134, with no change in two. But even among those where the rates have risen – most markedly in Cornwall and the Isles of Scilly – the consultation rates were generally nowhere near as high as they were at the peak of the current outbreak. The highest rate of consultation in England was in Greenwich, London, at 45.2 swine flu consultations per 100,000. Tower Hamlets, which came second with 44.1 consultations per 100,000, hit 75 per 100,000 a few weeks ago.
One thing that surprised him, Donaldson said, was the continuing high level of swine flu cases in the West Midlands.
In contrast to most countries, only 22% of deaths in the UK have been among healthy people, said Donaldson. Figures from the World Health Organisation suggested 40% of those who had died were previously healthy. The proportion ending up in intensive care in the UK also appeared to be lower, he said.
More than 460,000 packets of the antiviral Tamiflu have been given out via the government’s National Pandemic Flu Service for England since it launched in July.