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Weekly swine flu bulletin

Thursday, 22 October 2009

The Department of Health, Social Services and Public Safety has today published the weekly flu bulletin.

The bulletin includes data for the week ending Friday 16 October (Week 42) and gives a good representation of the level of flu activity across Northern Ireland.

Key points from the bulletin are as follows:

  • GP consultations for flu and flu-like illness have risen from 220 per 100,000 in Week 41 to 241 in Week 42 (9% increase) and remain highest in the 5-14 age group;
  • Out of Hours calls for flu and flu-like illness have also increased for the seventh week in a row to 894 (32%increase) and also remain highest in the 5-14 age group;
  • There were 146 new cases of laboratory confirmed swine flu during week 42– this represents a 23% increase on the previous week and is the highest weekly number reported to date;
  • The total number of laboratory confirmed cases in Northern Ireland as at noon on 21 October was 663;
  • Antiviral prescriptions have increased to 1791 during week 42 compared with 1100 courses prescribed in week 41; a total of 15,375 antiviral prescriptions have been issued at noon 21 October;
  • The number of cumulative swine flu hospitalisations is 346 as at noon on 21 October 2009; there has been an 82% increase in the number of new hospitalisations from 34 in week 41 to 62 in week 42;
  • There have been four deaths related to swine flu in the last week, bringing the total to eight (as at Wednesday 21 October).

The full weekly flu bulletin is available at www.dhsspsni.gov.uk and www.nidirect.gov.uk

The updated planning assumptions indicate that:

  • 12% of the adult population and 30% of children may become ill with flu at some point over the course of the pandemic.
  • There could be 35,000 hospitalisations throughout the UK.
  • There could be 1000 deaths throughout the UK.

The new guidance is based on the latest scientific understanding of the swine flu virus, drawing on our own experience to date and internationally. The planning assumptions are reasonable worst case scenarios and not predictions.

Commenting on the updated planning assumptions, Health Minister Michael McGimpsey said: "The updated planning assumptions provide us with very helpful information and will help us to prepare. While the clinical attack rate has reduced to 12% for adults, it could still be as high as 30% for children under 16.

"Up to 42,000 people could become ill in the peak week in Northern Ireland with nearly 1000 of those people requiring hospital treatment. This would present a huge challenge for health and social care. Swine flu is likely to persist throughout the winter, placing our service under a period of sustained pressure. Indeed, this could be the most challenging winter in a decade. We must not be complacent.

"Sadly, I have also recently reported three swine flu related deaths within 24 hours, bringing our total to eight. Each death is a terrible tragedy. Our experience to date has shown us that in some respects swine flu is behaving differently to seasonal flu. It is targeting our children and young people. In general terms, deaths in the UK have been amongst younger people. This is not usually the case with seasonal flu.

"Our service has been responding well and is well prepared for the long, hard winter ahead. I would like to thank staff for their continued professionalism and dedication in meeting current increasing pressures and thank them in advance for the huge challenge we face."

Chief Medical Officer, Dr Michael McBride said: "Swine flu is clearly still circulating widely in the community. Our levels of flu are at the highest reported for over nine years. Levels remain highest amongst the 5-14 age group.

"Hospitalisations have also increased significantly this week. These are mostly vulnerable people who experience complications with swine flu and who require the support of our hospital services. Vulnerable groups such as pregnant women and those with underlying health conditions are a priority within our vaccination programme and I would encourage everyone to get the vaccine when it is offered. It is the best defence against swine flu and will give these vulnerable people the protection they need. Protect yourself, protect those at risk and get the vaccine.

"I want to reassure the public however that for the vast majority of people swine flu remains a relatively mild illness from which you will make a full recovery.

"If you think you have swine flu stay at home, please do not visit your GP practice, pharmacy or A&E in person. People with underlying health conditions who are at higher risk of complications if they develop influenza should call their GP for advice and assessment for antivirals. This includes people with long-term conditions such as diabetes or chronic lung disease. In addition, pregnant women who develop flu-like symptoms should phone their GP promptly. Likewise, parents of children under five years should call their doctor if their child develops flu-like symptoms.

"For otherwise fit and healthy people, there is usually no need to take antivirals. Most people will recover at home by taking simple measures to alleviate symptoms such as resting, taking paracetamol and drinking plenty of fluids. If, however, your condition suddenly deteriorates or is getting worse after seven days (five for a child) then you should contact your GP or out-of-hours service.

"Simple but effective hygiene measures such as frequent hand-washing can also help. Remember to cover your mouth with a tissue when you cough or sneeze, then put the tissue into a bin – catch it, bin it, kill it!"

For further information visit the nidirect website, or call the Northern Ireland swine flu helpline on 0800 0 514 142 (9:00am to 5:00pm Monday to Friday); textphone 18001 0800 0 514 142. Information is also available on the swine flu information line 0800 1 513 513.

Notes to editors:

1. The clinical priority groups for the swine flu vaccination programme were identified by the Joint Committee for Vaccination and Immunisation (JCVI). They are prioritised as they are at greatest risk of complications if they become infected with swine flu, and hence the initial focus on protecting individuals in these groups.

2. The priority groups for the swine flu vaccination, in order of priority are:

  • Individuals aged six months and up to 65 years in the current seasonal flu vaccine clinical at risk groups;
  • Pregnant women;
  • Household contacts of immunocompromised individuals;
  • People aged 65 and over in the current seasonal flu vaccine clinical at risk groups.

Frontline health and social care will also be amongst the first to be offered the vaccine.

3. The UK has moved to a treatment phase in relation to managing the swine flu pandemic. This means that our focus is on treating those people who actually have swine flu and in particular those at higher risk of developing complications. In addition, the routine testing of suspected cases and the tracing of close contacts of a symptomatic patient has been discontinued. The level of flu in the community is therefore being monitored using a range of surveillance mechanisms through GP practices, Out of Hours centres, antiviral prescriptions and hospital surveillance systems. This enables us to monitor flu levels and identify trends in activity.

4. Some groups of people are more at risk of serious illness if they catch swine flu. Those with:

  • Chronic lung disease
  • Chronic heart disease
  • Chronic kidney disease
  • Chronic liver disease
  • Chronic neurological disease
  • Immunosuppression (whether caused by disease or treatment)
  • Diabetes mellitus
  • Patients who have had drug treatment for asthma within the past three years

As well as:

  • Pregnant women
  • Young children under five years old
  • People aged 65 years and older

It is vital that people in these higher risk groups contact their GP for assessment and if advised to start antivirals should start taking them within 48 hours of the onset of symptoms.

5. The Northern Ireland swine flu helpline number 0800 0514 142 is a freephone helpline for those who want more information about swine flu. Textphone 18001 0800 0 514 142.

6. The UK-wide flu information line on 0800 1 513 513 provides regularly updated advice on swine flu. This is also a freephone number.

5. Further information about swine flu can be found on the DHSSPS website and nidirect.

6. Media enquiries to the DHSSPS Press Office on 028 9052 0575. Out of office hours contact the Duty Press Officer via pager number 076 9971 5440 and your call will be returned.