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  • Surge in swine flu cases predicted as children go back to school

    Posted on January 3rd, 2011 admin No comments

    The return to school this week following the Christmas holidays is likely to spur a fresh surge in the number of flu cases, parents are being warned.

    Professor John Oxford, a leading virologist at St Bartholomew’s and the Royal London Hospital, said the return of children to school had in the past prompted a rise in the number of flu cases. “You tend to get a surge,” the professor said. “I would anticipate a surge, but how long that will last is difficult to say.”

    Children in high-risk groups should be vaccinated as soon as possible, Oxford added: “This virus is not going to go away next week. Even if it’s already peaked, it’s still going to be around for the next couple of weeks and it’s still worthwhile being vaccinated at this stage.”

    At least 39 people are believed to have died since the season began in October, the majority from the H1N1 swine flu strain of the infection against which younger people have less resistance.

    Experts fear that despite a global pandemic being declared last year and most sufferers experiencing mild symptoms, the pace of the disease’s transmission has not yet peaked this winter. As large numbers of children congregate in them, schools provide an easy way for the virus to spread. During the early stages of the pandemic last year, many schools were closed for short periods.

    Parents should keep children at home if they showed signs of flu, Oxford said. While closing schools had not proved effective, he said parents could aid the fight against the virus by ensuring good hand hygiene and keeping children away from others with the illness where possible.

    Dr Douglas Fleming, director of the Royal College of General Practitioners’ Research & Surveillance Centre, voiced concern that the outbreak may not have peaked despite the fact that a large number of children had already had the virus.

    “This is a H1 virus and we know that spreads rapidly amongst children,” Fleming noted. “I personally don’t feel that we have quite reached the peak.”

    The government relaunched its national flu prevention campaign on New Year’s Day in an attempt to quell the rising number of people being diagnosed with the illness. Health secretary Andrew Lansley ordered the reinstatement after it was confirmed that the number of people in critical care with confirmed or suspected flu in England has risen to 738, including 42 youngsters under five.

    Government advisers from the Joint Committee on Vaccination and Immunisation are continuing to urge the vulnerable to be vaccinated against the virus.

    The Health Protection Agency said that although many people reported relatively mild symptoms during the pandemic, flu could be an extremely serious illness for people in “at risk” groups.

    The Department of Health list of who should have a flu vaccination includes pregnant women, the elderly and those with other underlying conditions such as heart problems, diabetes, lung, liver or renal diseases, and those with weakened immune systems.

    Only one of the 39 who have died since October was over 65. Nearly three-quarters were from “at risk” groups. According to the Health Protection Agency, the vast majority of those who died had not had this season’s “trivalent” vaccine, which protects against three strains of flu.