Swine flu death toll 'could hit 65,000'
UP TO 65,000 people in Britain could die as a result of swine flu as the pandemic takes hold across the country, according to the government's latest calculations.
On the day a further 12 people were confirmed to have died after contracting the H1N1 virus, officials said they had revised their predictions upwards to take account of the increasing infection rate.
Sir Liam Donaldson, the UK government's chief medical officer, said the scenario of 65,000 deaths was based on 30 per cent of the population – some 18 million people – becoming ill and 0.35 per cent of those dying.
But the actual number of fatalities could be anywhere between 3,000 and 750,000, he added.
If the government's "working assumption" comes to pass, it would mean a death rate ten times that of normal seasonal flu.
The latest figures were in a Department of Health report published yesterday, which showed 29 people had died in Britain – three in Scotland – after contracting the virus.
Fears about the spread of swine flu were heightened after the Royal College of GPs revealed the number of cases had jumped by nearly 50 per cent in a week, making the current summer outbreak worse than the peak of last winter's flu season. Data from a sample of GPs' surgeries showed that up to 55,000 people complained to their doctor last week about "flu-like illnesses", with a huge rise in the number of young children being affected.
However, Sir Liam said the profile of the virus had not changed, it was not becoming more dangerous, and most people were still experiencing mild symptoms.
In his planning document, he warned that 18 million people might become ill with the virus and that employers should prepare for 12 per cent of the workforce being absent.
He also suggested more than half of children could get the H1N1 virus – much higher than the predicted 30 per cent of adults. The Department of Health has not worked out a separate fatality rate for under-15s.
Last night it was reported that a six-year-old boy in Kent had died of the virus. He was thought to have died on Wednesday and was was not believed to have had any other medical problems.
The Scottish Government yesterday announced the death of a woman in her forties at Raigmore Hospital in Inverness, the third victim in Scotland.
The woman, who was visiting Scotland on holiday, died more than three weeks after being admitted. However, as with most other victims, she had underlying health problems.
A Channel 4 news report suggested the virus could create "a vicious cycle" that could delay economic recovery by two years, with sickness levels lowering UK GDP by up to 5 per cent.
Currently, health officials expect one in 1,000 people who get the virus to die, the lower end of the rate for seasonal flu. However, they also admit this could rise to above one in 300, and have warned that it could increase still further in the autumn.
The school holidays in Scotland appear to have slowed the spread of the virus, while it has spread rapidly in England and Wales, where most schools have yet to break up.
In England, there were 55,000 new cases last week, and the equivalent of 73.4 people in every 100,000 visited their doctor with flu-like symptoms. The worst area in the UK for GP visits was Tower Hamlets in London.
Among age groups, the rate in England was highest among those aged four to 15, at 159.57 per 100,000, up 46 per cent from the week before. But in Scotland, there was only a 0.4 per cent rise in the number of people attending their doctors – 25 per 100,000, or about 1,250 people. And the rate among children aged four to 15 dropped to 13 per 100,000.
Health secretary Nicola Sturgeon said sample laboratory tests suggested only 13 per cent of those complaining of flu symptoms had the H1N1 virus. However, she was concerned that the rate of cases had not dropped, as would normally be expected in the summer.
And she suggested the spread of the H1N1 virus might accelerate again once schools reopen in the middle of next month.
The highest rate was in Tayside, with 75 in 100,000 people going to the doctor with flu symptoms. But Harry Burns, Scotland's chief medical officer, warned this might be inaccurate because of the small sample and with the recording of statistics still at an early stage.
Yesterday, he and Ms Sturgeon stressed that the Department of Health document did not contain "predictions", but would help the NHS prepare for a worst-case scenario.
One public health expert, Dr Dean Marshall, the chairman of the British Medical Association's Scottish GPs committee, warned swine flu victims to give other people a "wide berth".
However, he added: "It's difficult for the public to realise that normal winter flu has quite a high death rate – the difference being that not every one is reported in the press."
Microbiologist Professor Hugh Pennington said he would be "very surprised" if the swine flu death toll was as high as 65,000.
He went on: "They (the public] shouldn't be panicking. The majority of cases are still very mild. There will be quite a few people infected who don't even know they have it, because they don't have any symptoms at all."
Sir Liam also announced details of a National Pandemic Flu Service for England, which should be up and running towards the end of next week.
A similar system will be set up in Scotland later, because of the slower spread of the virus.
Meanwhile, there is an escalating row between the Scottish and UK governments over who should pay the 100 million for swine flu vaccines in Scotland.
A letter from finance secretary John Swinney to the Treasury suggested the Scottish Government did not have funds to pay for the vaccines. But yesterday, Ms Sturgeon said funds were available if necessary.
Cathy Jamieson, Scottish Labour health spokeswoman said: "We are in the midst of a pandemic… this is too important an issue to play politics with."
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Wednesday 19 June 2013
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