27/01/2011

Swine Flu Claims Three More Irish Lives

While the health protection authorities have said the swine flu virus "has peaked" there were still two more deaths in Northern Ireland from swine flu last week and a further fatality across the Irish border.

The Public Health Agency (PHA) said the number of new cases in NI continues to fall as there were just 41 new confirmed cases last week compared to 86 in the second week of this month.

There's now a total of 23 people in NI who have died from swine flu, with 20 of them suffering from underlying health problems.

A Department of Health Senior Medical Officer, Dr Liz Reaney said: "I would like to offer my deepest sympathies to the families of those whose deaths have been reported this week, during what is undoubtedly an extremely sad time for them."

However, she emphasised: "The further decrease in the levels of swine flu circulating in Northern Ireland is very much in keeping with the picture across the rest of the UK."

Meanwhile, in the Republic, the latest case of fatal swine flu has emerged with the victim being a woman who had no underlying health problems. She had been treated at a Cork hospital for two days before she died.

To date, 12 deaths associated with influenza have been reported in the Irish Republic. Ten were due to swine flu and two to influenza B.

The virus knows few boundaries as, almost two weeks ago, NI Health Minister, Michael McGimpsey moved to offer his condolences to the family of a two-year-old boy also from the Republic of Ireland - but who died in intensive care in Northern Ireland after falling ill from swine flu.

The Minister said: "I am deeply saddened by the death of this child and offer my sincere sympathy to the family. My thoughts are with them at this very difficult time.
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"I understand that this news may heighten public anxiety, particularly among parents of young children," he said, at the time, but added: "I have recently spoken to other UK health ministers about Northern Ireland's current flu picture.

"I have also spoken to Mary Harney, the Republic of Ireland's Health Minister," he said - by way of reassurance to the public that things were 'under control' - which now looks more likely to be the case.

The PHA has today also added their reassurances and said that the swine flu virus may indeed have peaked as was predicted last Thursday, with the number of new cases falling for the second consecutive week.

Doctors said that if the current trend continues, the virus would have passed its critical peak phase.

Dr Maureen McCartney from the PHA said the drop in the number of cases was "reassuring". She also said that the number of patients being treated in hospital for swine flu had fallen.

However, not everyone is convinced enough is being done. Earlier this week, the Sinn Fein MLA and Health Committee member, Sue Ramsey, went on record to criticise the Ulster Unionist Health Minister "for his failure to speak on the swine flu crisis" until a priority question at the Stormont Assembly was put down.

She said on Monday: "Following the deaths of 21 people as a result of swine flu within the space of 12 weeks we finally have heard from the Health Minister, who had to be forced by Sinn Fein compelling him following the submission of a urgent oral question," she alleged.

The East Antrim DUP MLA Alastair Ross also pressed the Minister on his Department's swine flu vaccination policy.

He sought an assurance from the Minister that he has adequate levels of the vaccine should it be required.

See: McGimpsey Criticised Over Swine Flu

(BMcC/GK)

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