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  • Swine flu: Grieving mother’s plea as Belfast boy is flown to hospital in Scotland

    Posted on January 26th, 2014 admin No comments

    A woman whose daughter died after contracting swine flu has appealed for people to get the vaccination after a schoolboy from Northern Ireland was flown to a Scottish hospital with the virus.

    The seven-year-old boy from Belfast was initially admitted to the Royal Belfast Hospital for Sick Children at the weekend.

    But he later had to be transferred to Glasgow for treatment.

    It is believed the young boy had difficulty breathing and needed an ECMO machine.

    It is used for babies and children with severe heart or lung failure and is similar to a heart-lung bypass machine used for open-heart surgery.

    The machine works as an artificial lung outside the body that puts oxygen into the blood.

    A spokeswoman for the Belfast Trust said it does not discuss an individual’s patient treatment or care.

    Almost 30 people in Northern Ireland died after an outbreak of swine flu in 2009 – known as the H1N1 strain.

    The majority of those who died had underlying health issues.

    Corrina Ritchie from Belfast died in 2009 after contracting swine flu on holiday in Spain.

    The 21-year-old underwent a liver transplant but sadly died of complications.

    Lorraine Ritchie, her mother, said it was important to remember how serious swine flu can be.

    “My thoughts are with that little boy’s family,” she said.

    “I know when we were told Corrina had contracted swine flu we were just so shocked.”

    Ms Ritchie (49) added: “I think people have forgotten how serious it can be for people who have underlying conditions.”

    She said it was important for people to be aware of the symptoms and to get the flu vaccination. Swine flu is now classed as seasonal flu. There are currently 22 cases in Northern Ireland.

    A spokeswoman for the Public Health Agency said: “The strains circulating this year include H1N1 and this strain has already been found in small numbers of people in Northern Ireland, and as such, is not unusual.”

    The symptoms are very similar to other types of seasonal flu. Most people recover within a week, even without special treatment.

    Flu symptoms usually peak after two or three days and you should begin to feel much better within five to eight days. If you are becoming more ill, or you are in an at-risk group, then contact your GP for advice.

    For information on seasonal flu, go to www.fluawareni.info

    Factfile

    Influenza (commonly referred to as ‘seasonal flu’) is a respiratory illness associated with infection by influenza virus. Seasonal flu is made up of several strains including H1N1 (swine flu).

    This year’s seasonal flu vaccines include protection against H1N1.

    Swine flu is a relatively new strain of flu that caused a pandemic in 2009-2010.

    Swine Flu Q&A

    Q: What is swine flu?

    A: It is a contagious respiratory disease of pigs caused by type A influenza viruses. Pigs are hit by regular outbreaks. There are many different types of swine flu and the current cases involve the H1N1 strain of type A influenza virus.

    Q: Why should we be worried about it?

    Flu viruses have the ability to change and mutate, making it difficult for drugs manufacturers to ensure effective vaccines are available.

    Q: How do humans catch it?

    A: While people do not normally catch it, humans can contract the virus, usually if they have been in close contact with pigs. It is also possible for the constantly-changing infection to spread from person to person. Experts believe it spreads in the same way as seasonal flu — through coughing and sneezing.

    Q: What are the symptoms?

    A: The symptoms of swine influenza in people are similar to the symptoms of regular human seasonal influenza infection and include fever, fatigue, lack of appetite, coughing and sore throat. Some people with swine flu have also reported vomiting and diarrhoea.

    Q: What is the difference between swine flu, avian flu and the flu commonly seen in the UK during the winter?

    A: Influenza viruses are commonly circulating in the human and animal environment, with different strains causing illness in humans, bird and pigs. Seasonal influenza is caused by viruses that are adapted to spread in humans. Humans have some natural immunity to the strains that are in common circulation and this immunity can be boosted by immunisation with a vaccine. Avian influenza is caused by influenza viruses adapted for infection in birds. Swine influenza is caused by influenza viruses adapted for infection in pigs. These illnesses all cause the same respiratory symptoms and can be passed between one another.

    Q Do masks provide protection against swine flu?

    A Yes, but probably not to the person wearing them. They help stop the virus being expelled from the mouth and nose when coughing or sneezing, but are much less effective at protecting the wearer from a virus picked up on the hands or circulating in the air. Wearing a mask thus becomes a public-spirited act.

    Q How do anti-viral drugs work?

    A Two anti-viral drugs have been licensed in Britain in the last decade: Tamiflu and Relenza. The problem with the flu virus is that it is constantly mutating, so a new vaccine has to be produced each year. The anti-viral drugs get round this by targeting not the virus itself but an enzyme that enables the virus to spread from cell to cell. Provided they are taken within 48 hours of the onset of symptoms they can shorten the illness and reduce its severity.

    Q What is the difference between Tamiflu and Relenza?

    A The big difference is that Tamiflu is taken as a pill while Relenza is inhaled directly into the lungs.

  • Swine flu: NI boy in ‘serious but stable’ condition

    Posted on January 26th, 2014 admin No comments

    A primary school child from east Belfast diagnosed with swine flu is said to be in a “serious but stable condition”.

    It’s understood that the boy, who is six years old, became unwell at the weekend and was admitted to the Royal Belfast Hospital for Sick Children.

    On Monday, he was transferred to the Royal Hospital for Sick Children at Yorkhill in Glasgow.

    A hospital spokesperson said the family wish to make no further comment.

    It is unclear whether the virus was picked up in Northern Ireland but the BBC understands the boy’s family had previously travelled outside the country.

    Three years ago an outbreak of swine flu killed almost 30 people in Northern Ireland.

    The majority of those who died had underlying health issues. Many more people were struck by the virus, but recovered.

    Twenty people in Northern Ireland have currently been diagnosed with swine flu, according to the Public Health Agency.

    BBC Northern Ireland’s health correspondent Marie-Louise Connolly said: “H1N1, or swine flu, is now considered, and is being treated, like any other strain of the flu virus.

    “Back in 2009, when we first heard of swine flu, it was a completely different scenario.

    “They didn’t have a vaccine widely available to tackle the virus. Over the last five years all that has changed.”

    She pointed out that it was “not an epidemic”.

    “For that to be declared there has to be 52 people per 100,000 people affected,” she said.

    Our correspondent said in the case of the Belfast boy an important factor to consider would be if the child had any underlying health issues, such as asthma.

    The health trust said they did not comment on individual cases.

  • Deadly Bird Flu May Be Five Steps From Pandemic Potential

    Posted on June 25th, 2012 admin No comments

    (Corrects sixth paragraph to show Glaxo vaccine is approved.)

    Five genetic tweaks made a deadly strain of bird flu that can infect humans spread more easily, according to a study that the U.S. government had first sought to censor on concerns it could be used by bioterrorists.

    The genetic changes made the H5N1 virus airborne among ferrets, the mammals whose response to flu is most like that of humans, researchers from the Netherlands wrote in the journal Science yesterday. The likelihood of those changes occurring naturally is difficult to estimate but there is “no fundamental hurdle to that happening,” said Derek Smith, a University of Cambridge researcher who led a second study.

    Scientists have been monitoring for pandemic-inducing changes in H5N1 since the strain was recovered from a farmed goose in China’s southern province of Guangdong in 1996. The virus has since spread across Asia, Europe, the Middle East and parts of Africa, devastating poultry flocks and causing sporadic infections in people, among whom it doesn’t efficiently transmit.

    “We now know that we’re living on a fault line,” Smith said on a conference call with reporters. “It’s an active fault line, it really could do something, and now what we need to know is, how likely is that?”

    Publication of the paper was delayed after a U.S. biosecurity panel in December asked the scientists to censor some parts of their work to prevent it being used by bioterrorists. Researchers meeting at the World Health Organization in February agreed the full findings should be published to help scientists design vaccines and drugs, and public health officials prepare for a pandemic.

    Vaccine Makers

    Novartis AG (NOVN), Sanofi (SAN), GlaxoSmithKline Plc (GSK) and CSL Ltd. (CSL) make vaccines against H5N1 avian influenza.

    More than 600 people have been infected with H5N1 since 2003, and almost 60 percent have died, according to the Geneva- based WHO. Most had direct contact with infected poultry, prompting scientists to question what it would take for the virus to become easily transmissible between humans.

    While influenza viruses mutate constantly in a process called antigenic drift, the flu pandemics of the past century, including the 1918 Spanish flu that killed as many as 50 million people, have all been triggered by so-called antigenic shift, the mixing of human and animal flu viruses to create new pathogens to which people have no preexisting immunity.

    Scientists led by Ron Fouchier at Erasmus Medical Center in Rotterdam set out to test whether H5N1 could become more transmissible by antigenic drift alone. The answer: yes.

    Infected Ferrets

    Fouchier and colleagues examined mutations in viruses responsible for previous flu pandemics, and made three such changes to a strain of H5N1 from Indonesia, the country with the most cases and deaths, which they used to infect a ferret. They later took swabs from its nose and throat and used that to infect another ferret, and so on up to 10 animals, to see how the virus evolved.

    Sure enough, it developed the ability to replicate in the animals’ respiratory tract, suggesting the potential for airborne transmission.

    The researchers then put the virus to the test by putting the infected animals next to healthy ferrets in neighboring cages. Six out of eight of the healthy ferrets became infected.

    In addition to the three genetic changes introduced by the scientists, they identified two other mutations that enabled the virus to spread, the researchers wrote. Those mutations are now the subject of further research.

    The five changes have all been observed in nature, but not in the same virus, they wrote. The mutant viruses were susceptible to Roche Holding AG (ROG)’s antiviral drug Tamiflu.

    A similar study led by Yoshihiro Kawaoka at the University of Wisconsin at Madison, which was also delayed, was published in the journal Nature in May. That showed how H5N1 could become highly transmissible by mixing with the H1N1 virus that sparked the 2009 swine flu pandemic.

    ‘Wrong Hands’

    The two groups agreed in December to suspend their work for 60 days after the U.S. National Science Advisory Board for Biosecurity asked two journals to censor some details of the work to ensure it wouldn’t “fall into the wrong hands.”

    The controversy over the studies triggered a new U.S. government policy for conducting or funding research that could potentially be used for harm, Anthony S. Fauci, the director of the U.S. National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases, and Francis S. Collins, the director of the U.S. National Institutes of Health, wrote in an accompanying article.

    ‘Nefarious Use’

    The benefits of the research “far outweigh the risks of the nefarious use of this information,” Fauci said on the conference call. “Being in the free and open literature would make it much more easy to get a lot of the good guys involved than the risk of getting the rare bad guy involved.”

    Other pathogens studied by scientists are more transmissible and deadlier than H5N1, Fouchier said.

    “Anyone with access to the scientific literature can read about all the dangerous pathogens that are more interesting to terrorize the world with than our particular virus,” he said on the conference call.

    A moratorium on the research will remain in place until the conditions under which the work is done are assessed by authorities, Fouchier said.

    The research was funded by the National Institutes of Health.

  • Hospitals get back to normal as they call off swine flu emergency arrangements

    Posted on January 18th, 2011 admin No comments

    Hospitals across Greater Manchester have called off emergency arrangements which saw them cancel thousands of operations to cope with swine flu.

    Regional health bosses had asked hospitals to stop carrying out non-urgent surgery so they could double the intensive care capacity – to more than 200 beds.

    The emergency arrangements which were brought in to cope after lots of people became seriously ill with complications from swine flu.

    Some Greater Manchester hospitals will continue to cancel some operations until the end of this week.

    Jane Cummings, chief nurse for the North West said: “The response of clinical teams, from GPs and primary care staff, to those working in hospitals and as part of our ambulance service has been amazing.

    “This winter has been particularly tough and teams have been extremely flexible – putting in long hours, working in different areas and even different hospitals – to ensure that people who need emergency treatment get it.

    “We plan for increases in activity every winter – but without the support and understanding of NHS staff, it wouldn’t work.”

    NHS North West appealed to hospital bosses to cancel all non-urgent, non-life-threatening elective surgery, to make sure that hospitals had enough critical care beds to deal with a spike in the number of people being admitted with complications due to flu at the end of December.

    Some cardiac treatment that requires specialist critical care are still on hold as hospitals across the region support the cardiac team at Wythenshawe Hospital, in south Manchester which are running a specialist ECMO service for swine flu patients.

    Hospitals are continuing to monitor critical care admissions and will reopen extra beds if necessary.

    Ms Cummings added: “I would also like to thank the public for their support and understanding at this difficult time.

    “We will do all we can to ensure that those appointments that had to be postponed are re-scheduled as soon as possible.”

  • Swine flu mum still in coma after giving birth

    Posted on January 15th, 2011 admin No comments

    A NEW mum is fighting for her life with swine flu – after being put in a coma to save her child before the birth.

    Leanne Gunnell, 21, suffered brain damage after doctors took the decision to protect her unborn infant, which was then delivered prematurely by caesarean, weighing just 3lb.

    The mother, who was six-and-a-half months pregnant, gave birth seven weeks ago but has still not come out of the coma.

    Her parents are awaiting further tests and she might never she her child.

    The tot is doing well but the mum’s family fear she will not recover and they may have to switch off her life-support.

    Simon and Sharon Gunnell, from Robinswood, Gloucester, want to know why their daughter was not offered a swine flu jab despite being pregnant.

    Mrs Gunnell, 43, said: “She was a fit and healthy young girl. She was pregnant and she was not offered a swine flu jab – that’s the most annoying thing.”

    Her husband, 44, added: “I am not faulting the GP service but something went wrong.” At the end of November, hotel receptionist Leanne complained of being ill for several days with a cold.

    Her GP told her she had a virus and she was given antibiotics but not tested for swine flu. A few days later she was rushed to hospital, coughing up blood amid fears of pneumonia.

    Doctors at Gloucestershire Royal Hospital discovered her lungs had been so seriously damaged there was little chance of both her and the baby surviving. They said the best chance was to put her in a coma and deliver the baby at 28 weeks.

    The baby – named Faith – is doing well but after Leanne deteriorated, her parents were told she had swine flu and brain damage.

    NHS Gloucestershire said: “We’re sorry the patient concerned remains very poorly.”

    3A GRAN who had an influenza jab just weeks ago has died of swine flu.

    Eleanor Carruthers, 68, had the vaccination because she was seriously ill with emphysema and lung cancer but picked up the virus and died in Royal Liverpool Hospital.

    Health bosses stressed the jab was still the best option for the vulnerable.

  • Latest figures show 112 people have died of flu in the UK since September according to the Government.

    Posted on January 13th, 2011 admin No comments

    Of the deaths recorded, 95 have died of swine flu and another five had flu type B. A further 12 deaths have yet to have their flu type confirmed.

    The latest figures come a day after Gemma Ameen, the mother of three-year-old victim Lana, urged the Government to reassess its vaccination policy.

    “It’s heartless really. It definitely needs looking at again with another review.

    “Rather than just taking facts and figures, they need to start thinking about people’s lives.It’s not about whether they thought Lana should have been eligible. Obviously she was because she died from it.

    “I think all children should be vaccinated and anyone else who is prepared to pay for it.”

    The Department of Health stuck by its decision insisting children who do not have risk factors are in no need to be vaccinated and added that independent expert advice was “absolutely clear”.

    The advice had been reviewed recently and the Joint Committee on Vaccination and Immunisation did not change its recommendation, it added.

    Recent shortage of the swine flu vaccine has raised alarm across the country as central Government tapped into its leftover stocks of last year’s Pandemrix swine flu vaccine for distribution.

    Director of immunisation, Professor David Salisbury, said GPs could now get their hands on Pandemrix:”There really is no reason for anyone to be turned away on the basis that there is no vaccine available or not being sent out.”

    Health trusts and GPs have placed orders for 200,500 doses of which 185,000 have already been dispatched.

    Pharmacy giant Boots revealed its stores had “very limited” stocks of the winter flu jab, admitting there was currently no hope of replenishing its supplies.

  • 15 more Swine Flu deaths reported in Wales

    Posted on January 13th, 2011 admin No comments

    A FURTHER 15 flu-related deaths have been reported to the Assembly Government in the last week.

    It brings the total number of flu deaths in Wales to 27 since October.

    Officials said 49 people were in critical care in hospitals across the country, including 23 people aged 16 to 44; 19 aged 45 to 64; and seven over the age of 65.

    Aneurin Bevan Health Board, which covers Gwent, said it had 12 patients with flu-like symptoms in critical care, the highest of any health board in Wales, while Betsi Cadwaladwr UHB closely followed with 11 patients in a critical condition.

    Abertawe Bro Morgannwg and Cardiff and Vale each have nine patients in critical care; Cwm Taf in the Rhondda has five and Hywel Dda three.

    It comes as figures released by Public Health Wales show a slight increase in the number of people contacting their GP with flu-like symptoms.

    Last week there were 93 GP consultations for every 100,000 people living in Wales, up from 89.2 for the week ending January 2.

    It was a slight increase on the week ending December 26, in which there were 92.1 consultations for every 100,000 people living in Wales.

    The figures revealed the highest level of GP consultations was for people aged between 25 and 34, at a rate of 147 consultations per 100,000.

    But experts believe the true number of people who have died as a result of flu this winter in Wales will be far higher.

    Doctors in Wales this week began using stocks of the 2009 swine flu jab to vaccinate patients. It follows shortages of the seasonal flu vaccine in parts of Wales, including the nation’s largest hospital – the University Hospital of Wales in Cardiff.

    Wales’ chief medical officer Dr Tony Jewell defended the decision to stock fewer seasonal flu vaccines for the 2010 flu season.

    He said: “Whilst we have been working to make stocks of the vaccine that was developed against swine flu available to be used where supplies of seasonal flu vaccine have run low, we are now well into the flu season.

    “People in at-risk groups are at a higher risk of complications from seasonal flu, and the best protection is early vaccination.

    “A press and publicity campaign has been running since October and has included television, radio and bus adverts to let people know if they are in an at-risk group, and that the vaccine is available free of charge to those groups from GPs.

    “We have also encouraged health boards and GPs to ensure that their patients and front line NHS staff are vaccinated against seasonal flu.”

    He added: “Despite the slight increase in the clinical consultation rate for influenza this week compared to the previous week, the rate of consultations for flu-like illness in Wales still remains within the levels of normal seasonal flu activity.

    “Most healthy people will recover from flu-like illnesses within five to seven days with plenty of rest and drinking non-alcoholic fluids.”

    A spokesman for Hywel Dda LHB said hospitals throughout the area were operating “at a very high capacity” due to the double-impact of higher levels of suspected seasonal and swine flu cases and increased numbers of general admissions.

    As of yesterday, 13 patients with flu-like symptoms were being treated at Withybush General Hospital in Haverfordwest; five at Bronglais in Aberystwyth; one in Prince Philip Hospital in Llanelli and another at Glangwili General Hospital in Carmarthen.

    Three of the patients were in intensive care.


  • Ten deaths in East Yorkshire swine flu outbreak

    Posted on January 13th, 2011 admin No comments

    The number of people with swine flu who have died in East Yorkshire so far this winter has risen to 10.

    Hull and East Yorkshire Hospitals NHS Trust said nine of the 10 people had other underlying health problems.

    One had no previous health issues and swine flu was said to have been a contributory factor in their death.

    Five of those who died were men and five were women. No children were among the dead, the trust added. New national figures are to be released later.

    The latest number of deaths in England, Wales and Scotland this winter from flu verified by the Health Protection Agency (HPA) was 50, with 45 of these due to swine flu. It can take time for deaths reported by local trusts to be verified and added to the national figures.

    Operations cancelledThe East Yorkshire figures are for deaths at Hull Royal Infirmary and Castle Hill Hospital in Cottingham. They do not include hospitals in Goole and Beverley.

    More than 200 people have so far been admitted to the hospitals with suspected swine flu since 1 December, with 84 cases confirmed.

    The outbreak has meant the trust has been forced to cancel some major operations to keep intensive care beds free.

    In December, 168 operations were postponed and up to Tuesday, 50 operations had been postponed in January.

    The trust carries out about 7,100 planned operations each month, which includes major surgery.

  • Call for clarity on swine flu death figures

    Posted on January 11th, 2011 admin No comments
    THE chair of the Stormont health committee Jim Wells has called on the Public Health Agency (PHA) to come clean on the number of people who have died from swine flu this year with no underlying health issues.
    The PHA has confirmed the deaths since November 1 of 14 people who had the swine flu virus – and that 10 of them had suffered from underlying health problems.

    However, it has still to confirm whether the remaining four people had any other medical conditions.

    If they were completely healthy, Mr Wells said he fears this could mean that the virus has changed since last year and could pose quite a different threat.

    “They were treating these 14 people in intensive care and did not have records of all their existing conditions?” he asked.

    “They must have the records. I can’t believe they do not know whether these other four people had underlying conditions.”

    He understood that one of the 14 who died was a 52-year-old lorry driver whose family believe had no underlying health problems.

    “Now the age group 25-44 seems to be the group most affected, people with no previous respiratory issues – and if this is so, the public must be told,” the MLA said.

    “Last year, all 19 people who died had underlying health issues and this was revealed from the time the first person died; the public had full confidence in the PHA reporting.”

    But this year we are not getting clear answers, he said.

    “What we do know is that Dr Carolyn Harper of the PHA confirmed on Friday that 40 to 50 per cent of those in intensive care with swine flu have no underlying issues.”

    He argued this could equate to four out of the 14 deaths being otherwise healthy people.

    However, on Sunday the PHA released a statement to say that the current pattern of swine flu in Northern Ireland is the same as last year.

    Dr Carolyn Harper, director of public health for Northern Ireland, said: “To allay any public concerns about swine flu here, I can confirm that there is no difference in the current pattern of swine flu in Northern Ireland compared with the rest of the UK. There is also no evidence that swine flu is affecting healthy young people any differently than it did during the pandemic, and therefore, no evidence to support a change to the current vaccination policy.”

    She encouraged at-risk people to get vaccination – pregnant women, those with underlying medical conditions and those aged 65 and over.
    Meanwhile, the chief executive of the Health and Social Care Board has revealed that more than a quarter of critical care patients are currently being treated for swine flu.

    Speaking last night, John Compton said: “The position today is that 27 out of 80 adult critical care patients and four out of nine paediatric critical care patients are being treated for swine flu.

    “Of all patients being treated in hospital in Northern Ireland today, approximately four per cent have been confirmed with swine flu or are suspected as having it. For example, in the Belfast Trust, there are 59 such cases out of a total of 1,453 patients. This is not unusual at this time of year when flu is most prevalent.”

    Mr Compton said some surgeries had been postponed to allow Trusts to deal with the swine flu influx.

  • Island relies on H1N1 vaccine until new flu jabs arrive

    Posted on January 10th, 2011 admin No comments

    It could be weeks before the Isle of Man receives an all-important delivery of seasonal flu vaccination.

    In the meantime the government is relying on stocks of the old swine flu vaccine, 3000 doses of this were released last week.

    But Health bosses insist there is no vaccine shortage on the island yet.

    Dr Parameswaran Kishore from Public Health said: “We might not get new supplies in time so we’re using the swine flu vaccine to fill the gaps.”

    Shelf life

    Health officials have taken the action in the light of news across the British Isles which indicates that flu deaths figures have risen to more than 50.

    Some island pharmacies have now run out of the seasonal flu vaccine.

    Dr Kishore added: “There is a mis-match between supply and demand in some areas at the moment. Some places have it, others don’t- but there’s not an island-wide shortage. “The problem is that there may not be anymore vaccine coming for the next few weeks.”

    The vaccine, know as Pandemrix, was stockpiled in 2009 but has a shelf life until the end of 2011.

    Pregnant women

    It only protects against the swine flu strain, just one of three circulating this winter, but as swine flu is the dominant strain in circulation the government has said it is the best option available.

    “The vaccine is particularly appropriate for pregnant women since their increased risk of complication is confined to the H1N1 virus and Pandmrix also provides protection for the newborn,” said Dr Kishore.

    The remaining doses of the seasonal flu vaccine will continue to be available to the over 65s and other high risk groups.

    This kind of scare over vaccine shortages is unheard of, as GPs initially struggled to persuade people to get the jab at all.

    Surge in demand

    Back in October we were telling people who were in the risk categories to make an appointment to get the vaccine,” continued Dr Kishore.

    “Initially the uptake was very poor because no one took it seriously.

    “Since the news that there has been flu related deaths, there has been a surge in demand.”

    “It’s difficult to predict how long our supplies will last because it depends on uptake and how quickly we can get more vaccines,” added Dr Kishore.

    The government are advising the public not to panic as the Health Protection Agency have predicted that the outbreak may have peaked and the number of cases are likely to plateau this week.

    But the move to open up the stockpiles of the swine flu virus shows there is real concern about the supply problems.