Swine flu claims life of first 'healthy' victim

A MIDDLE-AGED man has become the first person in Scotland to die from swine flu without having an underlying health condition.

The 53-year-old, from Fife, is the eighth person in Scotland to die with the H1N1 infection.

Previous deaths linked to swine flu in Scotland have all been among patients with other serious health problems that made it harder for them to fight the virus.

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Last night, Professor Tony Nash, the director of the Centre for Infectious Diseases at Edinburgh University, said opinion remained divided over how swine flu would develop.

He said: "Some people predict it's not going to be very big at all. Others suggest it might be significant. I think we just have to wait and see."

Last night, experts said the new death in an individual without complications did not indicate swine flu was becoming more severe.

Medical experts insisted there was no cause for public alarm.

On Thursday, health secretary Nicola Sturgeon announced that the intensive care capacity in Scotland's hospitals would be doubled to cope with any surge in demand caused by patients with swine flu. She said yesterday: "Our thoughts are with the patient's family and friends, and I'd like to send my sincere condolences to his loved ones at this very sad time.

"Fortunately, in the vast majority of H1N1 cases, most people have fairly mild symptoms and make a full recovery within a week.

"But it's important that you get the help you need as quickly as possible if you are at greater risk."

Ms Sturgeon said the latest figures for Scotland showed that, while the virus continued to circulate, the rates remained relatively low.

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In a statement yesterday, the Scottish Government said there was currently no indication of any underlying health conditions in the patient.

A report on the latest death has now been submitted to the procurator-fiscal at Dunfermline. The family of the patient have requested that no further details are released.

A spokeswoman for the Scottish Government added: "In the vast majority of H1N1 cases, most people have fairly mild symptoms and make a full recovery, but, as with seasonal flu, we might see deaths due to the influenza virus in people who appear to have no other health issues.

"In the case of the death announced today, it is still to be confirmed that there were no underlying health conditions present, though this is believed to be the case.

"People should be reassured that the NHS in Scotland and its partner agencies are continuing to do everything they can to minimise the impact of this outbreak, with the vaccination programme due to begin in the autumn."

Dr Dean Marshall, chairman of the British Medical Association's Scottish GPs committee, said the latest death should not cause undue alarm.

"Whether this man had some underlying health problems, we don't know for sure yet. But this does not really change the position in that, in the majority of cases, this is a minor illness," he said. "So far, we have seen significantly less mortality than from normal seasonal flu.

"This man's death is extremely sad, but it does not change the position.

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"The number of cases of swine flu in Scotland has increased, but has not gone up significantly as was expected when the schools went back.

"This could still happen, but we are just waiting to see how the virus behaves now."

The latest figures for Scotland show that the number of people seeing their GP with flu-like illness increased last week – from 40 consultations per 100,000 people to almost 44.

Of the samples tested, almost 20 per cent were positive for H1N1, which officials said was partly a result of more tests being carried out on children, who have higher positive rates than adults.

Health Protection Scotland estimates that 3,336 people contracted swine flu last week, up from 2,500 the previous week.

The total number of deaths linked to swine flu in England now stands at 66. The latest death in Scotland brings the total to eight, with one in Northern Ireland and one in Wales. The UK total stands at 76.

A swine flu vaccination campaign, targeting at-risk groups such as those with chronic illnesses and pregnant women, is set to start in Scotland in mid-October.

Prof Nash said it was too soon to make a judgment about the latest death in Scotland.

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He said, while there may be no obvious signs of other health problems in the patient, this could emerge in other tests.

"This (death] is the sort of thing you might expect from a seasonal flu," he said.

"My view was that it was likely to happen – that we would get somebody who does not have any underlying chronic conditions. It's typical of many countries and situations in the rest of the world where this has arisen.

"I think it is pretty normal, and there isn't any need to be worried. There is no evidence of the virus becoming more virulent."

He added:

"The vaccination strategy will be interesting to watch."