23 Dec 2010

Number of flu cases up as fewer are vaccinated

Government data on flu in the UK shows 27 people have died of the illness since October, including 24 from swine flu. Doctors tell Channel 4 News more people should get vaccinated.

Ten more people have died from confirmed flu in the last week, bringing the total up to 27, according to figures from the Health Protection Agency (HPA).

Nine children and 18 adults have died – 24 from swine flu, and three with another strain, flu type B.

The numbers of people visiting their GP with flu-like illness is similar to two years ago. However, doctors and officials are concerned about the impact on at-risk groups, with swine flu being particularly aggressive in pregnant women and other vulnerable people, including those under 65. They are urging more people to get vaccinated.

Flu infographic

A five-week old baby in Manchester is currently in intensive care with swine flu. As of Tuesday, there were 24 children under five in critical care with confirmed or suspected flu, another 12 aged five to 15, and 243 in the 16 to 64 age group. There were also 23 people aged over 65 in critical care.

New data also shows 19 patients are receiving specialist intensive care treatment, known as extra corporeal membrane oxygenation (ECMO).

ECMO is for the most severe cases and uses an artificial lung to oxygenate the blood outside the body.

Swine flu is dominant strain

Professor Dame Sally Davies, Interim Chief Medical Officer for England, said this season’s flu was “just winter flu” but with swine flu as the dominant strain.

“We have not got a pandemic,” she said, adding that a vaccine was available and there were levels of immunity in the community. However, she urged at-risk groups to get themselves protected.

To date, fewer patients than last year in at-risk groups, including pregnant women, have come forward for the seasonal flu jab, which also protects against swine flu. Some 43 per cent of at-risk groups under the age of 65 have had the jab, compared to 68.5 per cent of over-65s, the HPA said.

We want more people to come forward for the vaccine, particularly pregnant women. Professor Dame Sally Davies, Interim Chief Medical Officer for England.

Professor Davies said: “We want more people to come forward for the vaccine, particularly pregnant women.”

She added: “What makes this an unusual year is the (deaths) are in children and adults below the age of 65, whereas seasonal flu (deaths) are predominantly in the over-65s.”

A syringe being filled with swine flu vaccine (Reuters)

Unfortunate

Professor Steve Field, former President of the Royal College of GPs, told Channel 4 News that he felt it was “unfortunate” that there had not been a big national public health campaign in England to urge people in vulnerable groups to get vaccinated.

“I think there has been quite a complacency, not just among the public but also doctors and nurses because the pandemic flu we had earlier didn’t kill as many people as we expected.

It’s been very striking this year that the patients have typically been younger. Dr Simon Finney from London’s Royal Brompton Hospital.

“People feel that it’s a more mild illness and we know that as well as swine flu there‚Äôs influenza B circulating is affecting pregnant women, and there have been a number of seriously ill cases. What we have got to do is raise awareness of the need for vaccination.”

Dr Simon Finney, a consultant in critical care in the adult intensive care unit at London’s Royal Brompton Hospital told Channel 4 News that the profile of those being treated in his unit were different compared to previous influenza outbreaks.

“It’s been very striking this year that the patients have typically been younger, some of them have other illnesses, and the other very striking thing is that a lot of the female patients have been pregnant or recently been pregnant at the time they became particularly unwell.”

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