Sharp rise in swine flu cases in Wales
Dec 23 2010 by Madeleine Brindley, Western Mail
CASES of swine flu in Wales have quadrupled over the course of the past week, we can reveal today.
Figures show the number of people seeking help for flu-like symptoms has hit a 17-month high as experts warned Wales faces another five weeks of flu misery.
The Assembly Government last night said 11 patients with swine flu are being treated in Welsh critical care units and a further 17, with flu-like symptoms, are being treated in intensive care.
Dr Roland Salmon, director of the communicable disease surveillance centre at Public Health Wales, said levels of sickness are approaching those in England, where one in 10 intensive care beds is occupied by a patient with flu.
He has urged people in at-risk groups who are eligible for a free flu jab, especially pregnant women, to be vaccinated urgently.
The appeal comes as some experts have blamed the rise in swine flu cases on “shockingly low” vaccination levels.
Dr Salmon said: “We are firmly in the flu season now and we have another three to five weeks of this to come.
“I think we are pretty much on a par with England now.”
The weekly influenza surveillance report, for the week ending yesterday, showed there were 88.5 consultations per 100,000 practice population, up from 22.5 the previous week.
This is equivalent to 2,655 people with flu-like symptoms – almost half the number of people who fell ill at the height of the first swine flu pandemic wave in July 2009.
The levels are considered to be normal seasonal flu activity for the winter, but are the highest since the peak in July 2009.
The highest consultation rate in the last week – 170 per 100,000 population – was for people aged 15 to 24. And of the 33 samples sent for testing, 20 were positive for the H1N1 swine flu virus.
Dr Salmon said: “This is a little unusual for us because all the winters since 2000 have been relatively mild in flu terms.
“The perception of flu is that it is a benign disease but I am getting reports of people in intensive care and have been for a couple of weeks. This is what flu does and we want people to take it seriously.”
The high levels of swine flu have been blamed on low vaccination levels – in Wales 58.8% of the over 65s have had the jab, while take-up among younger people in clinical at-risk groups was 40.3%.
The take-up rate for pregnant women has risen slightly from 5% to 6.5%.
Professor Steve Field, the former chairman of the Royal College of General Practitioners, said: “Rates of uptake are shockingly low.
“It was ill-advised not to have the public awareness campaign on seasonal flu jab uptake that we usually have, because we knew the public and healthcare professionals were likely to become complacent after last year’s swine flu pandemic wasn’t the serious attack on the country that we thought it could be.
“With the added winter pressures on the NHS, we need NHS staff to be vaccinated as soon as possible, so that they can continue working, and we also need pregnant women and people who are vulnerable to have a flu jab that includes the swine flu vaccine as soon as possible.”
The new flu figures come as a pregnant woman, who was in a medically-induced coma after contracting swine flu, has regained consciousness and no longer requires intensive care.
Mother-of-four Fallon Devaney, 25, was rushed to the Queen’s Medical Centre in Nottingham, after struggling for breath last week.
Elsewhere in the UK there have been reports that a critically-ill baby diagnosed with swine flu had been sent home from a hospital with indigestion medicine.
Five-week-old Harvey Flanagan, from Stockport, Greater Manchester, is currently fighting for his life against the H1N1 virus and bronchiolitis.
Wales’ deputy chief medical officer Dr Jane Wilkinson last night urged people to take simple steps to stay healthy over the Christmas period.
“For those who are 65 and over, or under 65 with a chronic condition or who are pregnant, they should get their free seasonal flu jab, as this is the simplest way of protecting themselves this winter. If you haven’t had it yet, contact your GP,” she said.
“It is also important, if you do have flu or cold-like symptoms, you should not go to your GP or emergency department, unless you are in one of the at-risk groups and are concerned, as this increases the risk of spreading the infection.
“If we all heed this advice, we will help to reduce pressure on NHS services, and stay safe over the festive period.”
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