10/01/2011

Fresh Tragedy As NI's Swine Flu Level Rises

Northern Ireland's Public Health Agency (PHA) has made a new pledge to update the public on the number of people to have died from the swine flu virus - with the first news being that another person in NI has died from the infection.

However, as the total hit 14 at the weekend, the Director of Public Health for Northern Ireland, Dr Carolyn Harper said: "To allay any public concerns about swine flu here, I can confirm that there is no difference in the current pattern of swine flu in Northern Ireland compared with the rest of the UK.

Dr Harper also stressed that most people who are infected make a full recovery as she noted: "NI is consistent with the pattern we have seen through the pandemic last year," she said.

"This is an infection which particularly affects people with an underlying condition and there's been no change to that pattern."

Meanwhile, details of the latest person to have died are not being released as the number of fatalities in Northern Ireland as a result of swine flu has risen to 14, and the age of the latest victim has not been released.

The PHA came under fire last week for refusing to confirm the number of swine flu deaths, or the number of people hospitalised through the virus locally.

Now it is known that the number of people treated for H1N1 swine flu in Northern Ireland increased from 136 to 185 in the last week of 2010.
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Dr Harper continued: "I would like to express my sincere condolences to the families of people who have died from swine flu. It is a sad reminder that swine flu, whilst an unpleasant but typically mild illness for most people, can also be a very serious illness, particularly for those with underlying health problems.

"People should continue to follow the advice we've given about using a tissue to cover your mouth and nose when you cough or sneeze, washing your hands often, and staying at home, or off school, if you have flu symptoms."

She noted that figures would be updated again on Thursday as part of the PHA Flu Bulletin.

At the weekend, the SDLP Health Spokesperson Tommy Gallagher questioned whether there is now a need to review the policy of vaccinating people against swine flu in light of the publishing of the number of deaths since November by the Public Health Agency.

"Four people have died in Northern Ireland since November from swine flu who had no other underlying health problems prior to their death.

"This is a change in circumstances and, as such, the question must be asked if there should be a review in policy for vaccinations.

"Up until now, those termed at risk were in vulnerable categories, pregnant women, the elderly, and those with underlying health problems. Many people who wished to avail of the vaccine were refused because of this classification. That policy may have to change now there is evidence that deaths have occurred to healthy people.

"I urge the Health Minister to quell the concern of members of the public who are becoming increasing worried about the lack of information from his Department and how the change in circumstances may affect them and their families," he said.

"We also need assurances that enough Tamiflu vaccinations are available to cope, should reclassification mean that more people need to avail of it."

(BMcC/GK)

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