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  • 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.

  • Cameron admits to swine flu vaccine shortages and says we may see ‘significant outbreaks for years to come’

    Posted on January 9th, 2011 admin No comments

    David Cameron was yesterday forced to deny that spending cuts had made Britain vulnerable to swine flu as he warned that the country faced ‘significant outbreaks’ of flu for years to come.

    But the Prime Minister said lessons must be learned from the vaccine shortages that have seen GP surgeries turning away vulnerable people seeking the flu shot in recent days.

    His comments came as Labour accused the Coalition of putting pregnant women at risk by failing to promote the flu jab.

    The official death toll from the flu outbreak since October has now risen to 50. Most were victims of swine flu, the dominant strain of influenza in circulation.

    The latest Department of Health figures show that more people are going to their GPs in England and Wales with winter flu symptoms than at any time since the epidemic of 1999-2000 in which 20,000 died.

    This winter’s outbreak is still below epidemic levels and is not as serious as the 2009 summer outbreak, when 500 people died.

    However, doctors are concerned because the swine flu strain is hitting the youngest hardest.

    In a normal flu season, the elderly suffer most from infection but this winter around 90 per cent of patients being treated are under 65.

    Last week the Government announced it was being forced to raid last year’s stocks of the swine flu jab to plug shortages in the vaccination programme.

    The old vaccine only protects against one of the three strains in circulation.

    Mr Cameron – who revealed that he had not had a jab this year – denied the shortages were caused by spending cuts and insisted that the Government had followed expert advice throughout.

    ‘Doctors did order something like 14 million doses of vaccine. Because of very heavy usage there are some shortages in some places,’ he told BBC Radio 5 Live. It is very important that we learn the lessons from this.

    ‘One of the lessons is that it looks likely that, because of the prevalence of swine flu and other strains, we might have quite significant outbreaks in future years and we need to look at the way we order vaccinations and whether more needs to be done.’

    He went on: ‘This is nothing to do with cuts. The NHS is not having cuts.’

    Out of the 50 people who have died from flu since October, 69 per cent were in an ‘at risk’ group. At risk groups include pregnant women, the elderly and those with weakened immune systems.

    Labour yesterday renewed its attack on the Coalition’s handling of the outbreak.

    Shadow Health Secretary John Healey questioned why the Government was refusing to publish figures on the number of deaths among pregnant women.

    In a letter to Andrew Lansley, the Secretary of State for Health, he said there was ‘no justification’ for not letting the public have information about pregnant women.

    He added: ‘This is the first year in which it was decided to classify pregnant women among the at risk groups and offer them the projection of a free flu jab.

    ‘When did you not ensure more effort was made early to reassure women that the vaccine is safe and important for them to receive?

    ‘Why did you axe the annual autumn advertising campaign to help inform the public about flu risk and boost take up of the vaccine, including among women who are pregnant?’

    Around 600 people die from seasonal flu in a typical year. In an epidemic year the death toll rises to around 13,000.

    Last year at least 12 of the victims of swine flu were pregnant women.

    Ministers will carry out a review later this year into whether vaccines should be ordered centrally, rather than by GP surgeries.

    There is no vaccine shortage in Scotland where supplies are bought in by pharmacies and distributed among practices.

  • Fears over mutating swine flu virus that could render vaccine useless

    Posted on January 9th, 2011 admin No comments

    A research team has hurriedly been re-formed to investigate whether the swine flu virus has started to mutate in a way that will render the vaccine ineffective.

    Senior Government scientists have already discovered slight genetic mutations in the H1N1 virus.

    They are checking whether this is causing some people to be more severely affected, although there is no evidence at this stage to suggest the changes would stop the vaccine working or prevent the anti-viral drug Tamiflu from being effective.

    So far, 45 people are known to have died from swine flu since October.

    The team, based at Imperial College London, are testing the DNA samples of hundreds of swine flu victims.

    Professor Peter Openshaw, director of the Centre for Respiratory Infection at Imperial, said: ‘We have paid particular attention to whether the mutations are affecting how well the vaccine works and whether the slight mutations have led to it becoming more severe.’

    The study, known as MOSAIC, was set up in 2009 to monitor the virus during the pandemic, but it was swiftly re-assembled last month with the latest outbreak.

    Asthma specialist nurse Katy Odeadra, who works in the Chest and Allergy Clinic at St Mary’s Hospital, said: ‘All the talk among doctors and nurses dealing with swine flu cases is of a mutated form of the virus.’

    The Health Protection Agency said yesterday: ‘The vaccine still works.’

  • Swine flu victims are fighting for their lives

    Posted on January 8th, 2011 admin No comments

    FIFTEEN people in Worcestershire hospitals are fighting for their lives after contracting swine flu.

    As of yesterday, there were a total of 58 patients with flu-like symptoms, 26 at Worcestershire Royal Hospital and 22 at the Alexandra in Redditch.

    Meanwhile, a leading doctor has claimed that more than a third of GP practices have run out of vaccine.

    Dr Simon Parkinson, secretary of the Worcestershire Local Medical Committee, said GP practices in the county had been extremely busy as medical staff treated people with suspected swine flu – and stocks of the combined seasonal vaccine were running low. He said: “More than a third of Worcestershire practices have already run out of vaccine and the rest of us will use up our supply in the next few days.

    “Many of us have got some swine flu vaccine from last year left and we can use that for people who have not been immunised and are at risk.”

    As of yesterday there were 15 patients in critical care units with either suspected or confirmed flu (all strains) at the Worcestershire Royal Hospital and the Alexandra Hospital in Redditch. In total 320 patients with flu-like symptoms have been treated at both hospitals since December 1 last year.

    Despite GP concerns, a spokesman for NHS Worcestershire, which holds the purse strings for county healthcare, said there would be enough vaccine to go around. She said: “NHS Worcestershire is aware of the national problem regarding a shortage in flu vaccine supplies and this has affected supplies in some Worcestershire GP practices.

    “The trust is helping movement of vaccines from practices with higher stocks to those with lower stocks, in addition we have asked practices to order more vaccines.”

    Sue Lloyd, assistant practice manager at St John’s House Surgery in St John’s, Worcester, said the practice had enough supplies at the moment but said that if everyone they had written to asked for a vaccine they may run out.

    She said: “Since there have been swine flu deaths people have been panicking and we have had lots of people not on the risk register asking for the vaccine and we have had to direct them to pharmacies where they can pay for it privately.”

    According to NHS Worcestershire, there are 3,000 flu vaccines available in GP practices across the county and some practices have been asked to order further stocks or administer left-over swine flu vaccine instead.

    The number of people in intensive care with suspected or confirmed flu in critical care units in the West Midlands has fallen over the last week from 88 last week to 78 this week.

  • Why young people are dying from swine flu

    Posted on January 8th, 2011 admin No comments

    ROBERTO Vivancos, Consultant in communicable disease control at the Mersey Health Protection Unit, said it was difficult to compare flu deaths, as they were not recorded prior to last year’s pandemic.

    He said: “Fifty deaths nationally may seem high but people do die from flu every year, we just did not record things in the same way before so there is no way of comparing.

    “Levels are high this year and this partly explains the deaths. “More are getting it than last winter but last year the pandemic began in summer.

    “Many people had flu then which reduced levels in the winter months because they gained immunity.

    “Also last year more people came forward to be immunised.

    “I believe levels of immunisation earlier in this flu season were quite low.

    “More people were given anti-virals, which prevented it spreading. and the cold weather this year could also be an additional factor.”

    He added most deaths were in people with underlying health conditions.

    Jonathan Read, lecturer in epidemiology at Liverpool University, said older people were often immune to swine flu, because it was the predominant strain between 1918 and the 1957.

    He said: “Younger people are more vulnerable to the H1N1 strain, because we only began to see it again last year.

    “Most of the people who have died will have had underlying health problems, and these are the people who should have the vaccine.

    “But the chances of healthy people being very ill with it are still very low.

    “For the vast majority flu of any kind is more of an inconvenience.”

  • 33 NI swine flu cases critical

    Posted on January 7th, 2011 admin No comments

    There are 33 swine flu cases fighting for their lives in intensive care in Northern Ireland hospitals.

    50% of these cases have no underlying health conditions, according to the PHA.

    It has been reported that three people have died in Northern Ireland after contracting the H1N1 virus.

    It’s understood a man from west Belfast died on Wednesday, while another two people passed away several weeks ago in Craigavon and Ballykelly.

    The PHA have so far failed to confirm the deaths.

    This comes as flu cases continue to rise in Northern Ireland, directly impacting on the availability of hospital beds.

    A total of 185 people had the H1N1 virus in the last week of December with the highest number of cases in the 15-44 age group.

    An increase of 49 cases on the previous week, GP consultation rates also shot up by 45% from 179.5 per 100,000 population.

    The surge in winter sickness is placing a great strain on hospital beds.

    Patients have been waiting up to 12 hours at Antrim Area Hospital to be admitted onto a ward, UTV has been told.

    Peter Flanagan, the Northern Trust’s senior medical director, admitted that numbers were “significantly higher than we would like them to be.”

    The granddaughter of a current patient Teresa McKenna, whose grandmother is aged 88, described the situation inside the hospital as “pandemonium.”

    “She’s lying in there in a hospital bed and she can hardly breathe.”

    A total of 40% of beds in hospitals throughout the region were occupied by patients suffering from flu and flu-like symptoms, Belfast Health and Social Care confirmed on Wednesday.

    Elective surgery has now been postponed for one week to ensure hospitals continue to meet the needs of intensive care patients.

    Meanwhile, swine flu cases have doubled in the past week in the Republic of Ireland resulting in record numbers waiting for a hospital bed.

    The Department of Health and Children reported 5,400 cases.

    26 flu patients are currently being treated in intensive care in southern hospitals.

    In England, the Government has admitted some areas are short of flu vaccines.

    Bringing more stocks in from Europe is being considered after shortages in some areas.

    Suppliers have been asked to contact their factories in Europe for a count of how many stocks of UK-licensed vaccine are available.

    11 people have died from the flu virus in the last week there.

    The deaths are mostly among children and young adults.

    Receiving the seasonal flu vaccine is “the best way” to protect against the virus, according to Dr. Lorraine Doherty, PHA’s Assistant Director.

    She recommends the injection for those in the ‘at-risk’ group which includes the over-65s and those with a lowered immune system.

    Addressing concerns over the availability of the flu vaccine, she said: “I would like to stress that vaccines are still available and pregnant women in particular, no matter what stage of pregnancy, should receive the vaccine, even if they received the swine flu vaccine last year.”

    And for those who have already contracted the illness, they have been advised to stay indoors.

    “If you do get flu this year, our advice is to stay at home and don’t spread your infection to others,” Dr. Doherty said.

    “Rest, drink plenty of fluids and use over-the-counter remedies if they make you feel more comfortable.

    “GPs and hospitals are busy dealing with flu cases, so I would emphasise that people should stay at home and contact their GP only if their condition worsens or if they are in an ‘at risk’ group or pregnant and not recovering.

    “Do not visit relatives or friends in hospital if you are sneezing, have a cough or have other symptoms of flu-like illness,” she added.

  • Killer Flu Leaves 50 Dead In UK

    Posted on January 6th, 2011 admin No comments

    ELEVEN more people have died from flu across the UK taking the total to 50.

    The Health Protection Agency said 45 people had died from swine flu since October while the other five were suffering from the strain flu type B.

    Health bosses have told hospitals to postpone cardiac operations to make way for the most seriously ill flu patients.

    The deaths have been mostly among children and young adults, with five cases in the under-fives and eight cases among those aged five to 14.

    Another 33 cases were in people aged 15 to 64.

    Tragic new mum Sarah Applin, who was rushed to hospital with swine flu, died just days after giving birth to a baby boy.

    Another new mum, Sarah Bowden, died on December 18 – 11 days after giving birth to her son Harry. She was just 20.

    And fit and healthy barman John Walsh, 21, who had not been suffering from any underlying health problems, lost his battle with swine flu after being admitted to hospital on Christmas Day.

    The figures come as it was revealed some hospitals have been told to cancel operations to deal with seriously ill flu patients.

    The NHS is preparing to expand the number of beds available for a highly specialised treatment — seen as a last resort.

    Extra corporeal membrane oxygenation (ECMO) helps patients whose lungs or heart are not working normally and uses an artificial lung to oxygenate blood outside the body.

    A spokeswoman for the National Specialised Commissioning Team said: “This very specialist, high risk, procedure is being provided by highly trained specialists at seven hospitals.

    “The NHS continues to monitor the situation carefully and we are taking further steps to increase the number of beds available.

    “For instance, hospitals providing respiratory ECMO have been asked to take appropriate measures, including postponing planned cardiac surgery, in order to maximise capacity for patients needing ECMO.

    “Hospitals which have specialist respiratory centres are also being requested to suspend elective surgical work, that requires ICU (intensive care) support, to ensure capacity is available for the repatriation of stable patients from the national ECMO service.

    “In addition new advice was issued to the NHS before Christmas to ensure there is additional capacity if all nationally designated ECMO beds are in use.”

    The spokeswoman said ECMO is “only used as a matter of last resort in exceptional cases”.

    The main ECMO centre is based at Glenfield Hospital in Leicester but seven UK hospitals in total are currently running ECMO beds.

    As of Christmas Eve, 22 ECMO beds were in use across UK, up from five in early December.

    Four more beds are now being arranged. Steps are also being taken to expand this number by cancelling planned operations at some hospitals that provide ECMO.

    This will free up cardiothoracic (heart and lung) surgeons and their teams to move across to ECMO, which uses similar skills.

    Other hospitals which have specialist respiratory centres and provide intensive care have also been asked to cancel planned operations.

    This will ensure that those patients who are stable enough to leave ECMO can move into intensive care beds.

    If all ECMO beds become full, plans are in place to expand capacity even further.

  • 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.

  • Flu set to sweep nation

    Posted on January 2nd, 2011 admin No comments

    HUNDREDS of thousands of people in Wales face being struck down by deadly swine flu in the next few weeks.

    Killer H1N1 – billed as “the new seasonal flu” by health chiefs and responsible for last winter’s pandemic – is expected to sweep the country until at least the end of January.

    So far 58 patients have been left critically ill after contracting flu.

    Dr Roland Salmon, director of Public Health Wales communicable disease surveillance centre, claimed “somewhere in the order of five to 10%” would be affected by the virus.

    In Wales that could be as many as 300,000 people.

    Dr Salmon said: “Swine flu has become the new seasonal flu.

    “We are in the middle of the flu season and have been for a couple of weeks. If you speak to doctors in general practice and in hospitals they will tell you that it is making them pretty busy.

    “Flu season always goes on for six to eight weeks. We are two or three weeks in so we have another four to six weeks to go.”

    The health service has not seen so many people affected by flu for more than a decade.

    Dr Salmon said: “Probably this reflects swine flu is the new seasonal flu and remains a newish virus and more people are able to catch it.

    “We are still very keen to encourage people to come forward for vaccination.

    “Anyone over 65 is eligible. And anyone less than 65 with some other serious condition is also eligible.”

    Richard Allott and Lesley Hatton’s premature daughter Millie Louise – born weighing 2lbs 2oz on October 21 – spent Christmas in Swansea’s Singleton Hospital after contracting swine flu.

    Richard, 41, catering manager at Aberystwyth University, said: “On Christmas Eve they said we should go to be with her because she might not make it through the day.

    “By Christmas Day she was starting to get better. But it was a long day.”

    He urged anyone feeling ill to get help “straight away.”

    But so far the numbers of people getting vaccinated have been low.

    Just 58.8% of the over-65s, 40.3% of those with chronic conditions and 6.5% of pregnant women have been immunised.

    “People need to be aware there are treatments available,” Dr Salmon said, adding: “There is a good argument for anyone to get vaccinated if they want to.

    “You could trudge down to Boots and they could probably give you a flu shot in exchange for £10 or £12.

    “I’m not here to promote that, but there is quite a cogent argument that that is what you would pay for health insurance in other countries.

    “Pretty much anyone would benefit from a flu shot.”

    Wales’ most senior doctor, chief medical officer Dr Tony Jewell, warned flu could lead to “severe health complications”.

    He said: “It is really important that people who are in at-risk groups do get vaccinated.”

    New figures show the number of patients calling their GP with flu has risen to 92.14 per 100,000 people – equivalent to more than 2,700 people. The real number sick is much higher.

    According to UK figures 39 people have died so far – 36 from swine flu.

    All but one case was under 65 and four were under five.

    More deaths are set to follow.

    An Assembly Government spokesperson said: “The number of people experiencing complications and severe illness, or sadly even death, will also rise.”

    The Health Protection Agency urged anyone with flu symptoms to seek medical advice “as soon as possible.”

    And the British Medical Association’s Dr Tony Calland said: “People can die and do die from influenza every year.

    “The slightly different thing about swine flu is that it affects a slightly different group.

    “It seems to be a problem for women who are pregnant, and sometimes a much younger group of children, particularly if they have other medical problems like asthma or chest or heart problems.”

    Dr Calland warned all flu viruses were dangerous.

    He said: “They can still knock people off if you are the wrong person at the wrong time with the wrong immunity.”

  • Swine flu surge causes critical shortage in intensive care beds for children

    Posted on January 1st, 2011 admin No comments

    Doctors last night warned of a critical shortage of intensive care beds for children – because of the surge in swine flu.

    Dr Kevin Morris, of the Paediatric Intensive Care Society, said: “We are virtually in a situation where there isn’t a single paediatric intensive care bed left in the country. This is the worst crisis within living memory.”

    The H1N1 strain of swine flu has killed 39 people so far this winter, four under the age of five.

    Dr Morris added: “We have a situation where a sick child can’t get an intensive care bed in large parts of the country – which means children are having to travel some distance to find a bed.

    “We have not had any reports that so far a child has suffered, but with so few beds to play with anything is possible.”

    About one in five of the 305 child intensive care hospital beds is now taken up with critically ill youngsters with suspected swine flu. Last night there were just 15 left.

    The system could reach breaking point next week as a boom in cases of both seasonal flu and swine flu in children is expected.

    Meanwhile, some surgeries and pharmacies warned yesterday they have run out of the swine flu vaccine and Tamiflu medicine.

    A Department of Health spokesman said: “There may be local short-term supply problems because it is up to pharmacists to make sure they have ordered sufficient stock.

    “Any problems should be shortlived with new stocks of medicines being delivered within 24 hours.”

    With many GP surgeries closed over the festive break, patients have relied on NHS Direct, but callers have had to wait up to four hours to speak to a nurse. The hotline’s Sally McMillan said: “These are exceptional circumstances.”

    Bungling Health Secretary Andrew Lansley hastily re-instated the winter flu ad campaign this week after criticism for axing it.