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  • New infections of swine flu ‘on the way down’

    Posted on January 16th, 2010 admin No comments

    The number of new cases of swine flu has halved in England amid signs the second peak of the pandemic is petering out, latest figures show.

    There were 22,000 infections over the past seven days compared to 46,000 the week before, the government said.

    To put that in context, the levels of flu being reported now are comparable to what has been seen in past winters.

    But there are still 1,000 people in hospital in the UK and the death toll has reached 270.

    This is in line with government estimates that there may be up to 1,000 this winter.

    The first peak of the pandemic was in July when there were over 100,000 cases a week, which was followed by a drop and then a second rise during the autumn.

    In Scotland, it is estimated that around 12.300 people have contracted swine flu in the past week, compared to just over 21,000 the week before.

    In Wales and Northern Ireland the figure is much lower.

    Progress

    Sir Liam Donaldson, the government’s chief medical officer, said the figures represented a “striking reduction”, but it was still “too early” to know whether the downward trend would continue.

    He pointed out there could be a surge in cases among older adults after Christmas – children have been the worst hit so far.

    The government also reported progress being made with the vaccination programme – although it remains to be seen whether the NHS can get the first wave completed in time for Christmas as expected.

    There have now been 1.6m doses given in England, a rise of 600,000 in the past week.

    However, there are more than 9m people in the priority group, which includes those with health problems and pregnant women.

    The first figures have also been given for healthcare workers.

    The Department of Health said 275,000 had had the jab out of nearly 2m. The figure is double the number that were given the seasonal flu vaccine last year.

    Graph showing the number of swine flu deaths in the UK
  • Young children to be offered swine flu vaccination

    Posted on January 16th, 2010 admin No comments

    Children under the age of five are the next in line to get the swine flu vaccine, the government has announced.

    The immunisation programme is already well under way, with NHS workers, pregnant women and people with health problems being offered the jab first.

    The UK-wide programme will be extended to children aged from six months up to five years from December after a recent rise in serious illnesses.

    People caring for elderly or disabled people will also be offered the jab.

    The move to vaccinate children was widely expected, although some people had suggested there might be a mass schools vaccination campaign.

    The Conservatives have already said all under-25s should get the jab next.

    Parents are standing by intensive care beds in life and death situations
    Sir Liam Donaldson, chief medical officer

    However, on the advice of its vaccination experts, the government decided to concentrate on the youngest age groups.

    Chief Medical Officer Sir Liam Donaldson said there had been a rise in serious illnesses recently among young children that was “causing concern”.

    “We consider them to be seriously at risk.

    “Parents are standing by intensive care beds in life and death situations.

    “We are out to save lives and fight this pandemic all the way.”

    The number of under-fives currently in hospital is still fairly low – fewer than 200 in England. But they are three times more likely than other age group to need hospital care.

    And the overwhelming majority of those children requiring hospital treatment – 81% – were previously healthy.

    Infections

    The vaccination move comes as the number of infections fell in England for the second week in a row.

    There were 53,000 new cases last week, compared with 64,000 the week before.

    New cases are also dropping elsewhere in the UK.

    Sir Liam said it was “too early” to tell if the pandemic had peaked because the numbers in hospital remained relatively high.

    The first wave of vaccinations, which is being offered to nearly 14m people, is not expected to be finished until Christmas.

    Girl receiving vaccinaton

    Children under five are expected to get the vaccine from December

    However, there is likely to be some overlap, with GPs likely to be asked to start giving immunisations to children once they are close to completing the initial priority groups.

    There are more than three million children under the age of five.

    Meanwhile, at least 1.5m carers will be offered the jab as experts felt there could serious consequences for vulnerable people if they fell ill.

    But a BBC poll this week showed the scale of the problem the government faces convincing people to agree to vaccination.

    There are no official take-up figures yet, but the survey of more than 2,000 showed nearly half had doubts about getting immunised.

    Safety and the mildness of the virus were the major concerns.

    Clinical trials

    Professor Steve Field of the Royal College of GPs said: “We shouldn’t underestimate swine flu – it is a nasty infection and its effects can be devastating.

    “I know that some parents have concerns about immunisation, but the swine flu vaccine is our most effective protection.”

    The two different types of vaccine being used in the UK have been through clinical trials and approved by the official European drugs regulator.

    The World Health Organization’s monitoring of problems following swine flu vaccination also indicates swine flu vaccines have a good safety record.

    WHO vaccine expert Marie-Paule Kieny said: “Reporting so far reconfirms that the pandemic flu vaccine is as safe as the seasonal flu vaccine.”