15/01/2010

Flu Pandemic 'Exaggerated'

Northern Ireland's latest swine flu figures are still on the way down.

The new local figures have just been been released as several European countries are raising questions about the swine flu crisis - inferring it was "a false pandemic" - allowing pharmaceutical companies to put pressure on health ministers to order more vaccine than their countries needed.

Locally, the crisis continues to abate with GP consultation rates for flu falling last week from 55.5 in Wk 53 to 48.8/100,000 population in Wk 1 - a 12% decrease.

The Department of Health said the rates remain below the Northern Ireland threshold for seasonal influenza activity.

There were four swine flu detections over the last week as compared to three in Wk 53 and there has been a cumulative total of 1,358 swine flu detections as at noon 13 January with a cumulative total of 578 hospitalised swine flu cases.

There were just three new hospitalised cases reported in the first week of this year and no new swine flu related deaths.

The total number of swine flu related deaths in NI remains at 17 (or 19 counting two local people who died outside the Province).

Deputy Chief Medical Officer, Dr Elizabeth Mitchell said: "Swine flu has now been circulating within Northern Ireland since May 2009.

"We have seen two waves of infection from the virus and our planning and preparation has meant that the likelihood of a further wave has been significantly reduced.
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"This is due in part to the extent in which the virus has already circulated in the community, and also as a result of the very successful vaccination programme."

She also urged against complacency and said: "We know from experience of previous pandemics that flu viruses can be unpredictable so we can not completely rule out the possibility of a further wave. We will therefore continue to monitor the situation carefully and adapt our plans accordingly."

Meanwhile, although more than 12,700 people worldwide have died from H1N1 swine flu, the virus does not appear to be as deadly as many people expected.

According to the news website, Medical News Today, some European politicians have accused the World Health Organisation (WHO) of exaggerating the dangers of swine flu.

They said a WHO spokeswoman in Geneva acknowledged there were questions that needed answers and that a review of how the WHO handled the pandemic would be done with independent experts and would be made public.

However, they will wait until the pandemic is declared over, so it could be months yet before any report emerges.

Many mainland Europe countries are also looking to cut back on orders of vaccine or sell a large part of their stockpile as they think pharmaceutical companies put excessive pressure on them to stock-up initially.

This week too, the UK Government formally also abandoned its weekly swine flu briefings after new cases plunged over the past month prompting the Department of Health to abandon its regular media briefing.

(BMcC/GK)

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