Swine flu still an ever-present danger

Swine flu has disappeared from the headlines but is still waiting to claim victims.

IT’S a year since the first cases of swine flu were reported in the UK and the virus has all but disappeared from the headlines.

But NHS East of England says it is still important to be vigilant and get vaccinated if you are in one of the at risk groups.

It was on June 11, 2009 when the World Health Organisation formally declared a swine flu pandemic and raised the global alert level to six.

Over the months that followed the country saw two swine flu surges with thousands of people taken ill.

Altogether, 179,678 people in the East of England were assessed as having swine flu by the National Pandemic Flu Service between July 23 and February 10, although the number is thought to be far greater as it does not include those assessed by GPs and those who self-treated.

In the East and North Herts area there were 17,373 cases and in Bedfordshire (excluding Luton) there were 13,865.

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The number of anti-viral doses collected in East and North Herts was 12,200 while in Bedfordshire it was 8,769.

Of those diagnosed with swine flu in the region, 121,703 made use of the anti-viral collection points. Although it was a mild flu virus for most, there were some severe cases and deaths.

At the peak of the pandemic, new admissions to hospitals in the region rose to 124 in one day (December 2). Between July and March, 1,771 people were admitted to hospital for treatment, 529 of these were aged under five years old. Nationally 474 people died from swine flu, 26 of them in the East of England.

By last January the number of new swine flu cases dwindled to negligible levels.

However, Dr Linda Sheridan, deputy regional director of health protection, is keen for people to remain vigilant against swine flu.

She said: “Swine flu remains in the community and is likely to remain the predominant flu virus for the next three to four years.

“It particularly poses a risk to the under fives, those with long term conditions, pregnant women and those with compromised immune systems. I would like to reiterate that these people should still have the swine flu vaccine, if they have not already, as it will give them the best protection against the virus in the future.

“The specific swine flu vaccine will continue to be available to these groups through GP surgeries until September this year.

“From September, the national seasonal flu vaccine programme will begin and this year the vaccine will give protection against swine flu and two other strains of flu virus.”

National Swine Flu Service information line continues to operate and can be contacted on 0800 513513.