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Flu surge threatens critical care

Friday October 23rd, 2009

The number of cases of suspected flu in Britain doubled last week - with the greatest spread among school-aged children, according to estimates released yesterday.

Some 53,000 people succumbed to flu-like illnesses, according to estimates from the Health Protection Agency.

The estimates are based on reports from GPs and the National Pandemic Flu Service.

According to the flu service, the biggest increase in cases involved children up to the age of 14.

More than 500 people are in hospital as a result of flu - and an increasing proportion are needing critical care services, it was reported.

The surge in cases came a day after swine flu vaccination began. GPs begin the H1N1 vaccination programme on Monday.

Efforts are being made to encourage health staff and others to get vaccinated.

Regulators promised that monitoriong for side-effects would be stepped up.

The Medicines and Healthcare Products Regulatory Agency set up a special reporting page - promising that a dedicated team of drug safety scientists would be reviewing reports of problems.

Chief executive Kent Woods said: "Even when the balance of benefit and risk is overwhelmingly favourable, as for the swine flu vaccine, we are committed to rapid evaluation of all new information.

"Our robust systems enable real-time safety monitoring and we encourage people to use the Swine Flu Portal to enable quick and effective analysis."

Dr Peter Carter of the Royal College of NursingDr Peter Carter, chief executive of the Royal College of Nursing, said nurses working on the "front line" should be vaccinated.

He said: "While most cases of swine flu are mild, nurses should be mindful of the effects on more vulnerable patients. Vaccination is a simple way for nurses to protect themselves, their families and their patients, so employers must ensure that staff have the time and the opportunity to access the vaccine."

In Northern Ireland, local GP chairman, Dr Brian Dunn said: "This is not just about vaccinating apparently healthy people; it is to minimise the number of health care staff from falling ill and being absent from work, which will ensure the health service can continue to deliver
care.

"Vaccination of doctors, nurses and other frontline staff against H1N1 will reduce the spread of the virus from healthcare workers to vulnerable patients."

Meanwhile chief medical officer Professor Sir Liam Donaldson expressed alarm at the number of critical care cases, declaring it was "mystifying".

He said there was a danger of "sustained pressure" on hospitals over the winter.

Recent analyses from Canada and Australia have warned of the high proportion of previously healthy people who may need critical care following infection with the H1N1 virus.

Tags: Child Health | Flu & Viruses | Nursing & Midwifery | Traveller Health | UK News

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