Half of Scots were infected by swine flu
ALMOST one in two Scots caught swine flu during the first outbreak of the virus, but only one in 20 went to doctors reporting symptoms, research has revealed.
A study by Edinburgh University found that the swine flu outbreak of winter 2009-2010 was much more widespread than was previously realised, affecting up to two million people in Scotland.
Blood samples taken from Scottish adults in March last year at the end of the H1N1 flu season showed that almost half were carrying antibodies to the virus.
Three-quarters of the 44 per cent who tested positive had contracted swine flu. The rest acquired immunity from a previous bout of flu, or had been vaccinated.
Only 100,000 people consulted their GP regarding flu, out of about two million who are believed to have contracted the virus. The study also found that people living in the most deprived areas of Scotland were twice as likely to have contracted it.
The rate of infection was also found to be higher amongst younger adults than with older adults.
Scientists add that it is possible that many people who were vaccinated against the virus were already immune.
Almost 1,600 adults from the east of Scotland and Glasgow, who are participants in the Generation Scotland Scottish Family Health Study voluntary health scheme, took part.
The research, carried out in collaboration with Strathclyde University, Health Protection Scotland and West of Scotland Specialist Virology Centre, was funded by the Chief Scientist Office and published in the journal PLoS One.
Professor Mark Woolhouse of Edinburgh University's Centre for Infectious Diseases, who led the study, said: "This flu spread very quickly. Most cases were mild but this also means that they weren't reported.
"There were about 20 times as many people found to have contracted the disease, as we first thought, which was surprising.
"It's true that many cases were mild but it does not change the number of people who died from the disease or who were in hospital."
Professor Woolhouse said one of the things that most surprised him were that they found poorer people were more susceptible to the virus.
He said: "I'm merely speculating here but I imagine it's to do with the size of the household being smaller, making viruses more likely to spread.
"We also found that a lot of people vaccinated for swine flu were already found to have been exposed to the virus.
"It's clear that in future we need to carry out investigations at the very start of these pandemics, whereas this was started after it had already begun."Testing for antibodies to flu could be invaluable in tracking future pandemics and targeting vaccination to those who most need it."
The Scottish Government was criticised last year for the amount spent on stockpiling supplies of vaccine during the outbreak.
But health minister Nicola Sturgeon dismissed critics, saying: "The possibility of us experiencing a more severe pandemic has not lessened and we must ensure that we remain one of the best prepared countries in the world."
69 The number of people in Scotland who died in the initial swine flu outbreak in 2009-10, compared to 359 in England.
1542 Swine flu victims hospitalised in Scotland during the first outbreak.
55m The cost to the Scottish Government of handling the outbreak, including buying extra drugs and vaccines, and setting up a special helpline.
93,000 Doses of antiviral drugs Tamiflu and Relenza given in Scotland during the pandemic.
3.4m Number of doses of antiviral drugs stockpiled by the Scottish Government which were unused.
88,000 Estimated number of people who saw their GP with swine flu symptoms.
730,000Number of people vaccinated against the H1N1 virus in Scotland.
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