Deaths of pregnant woman and girl bring flu toll to 16

 

TWO MORE people – a pregnant woman and a child – have died from swine flu in the State. The deaths occurred in the east of the country, the Department of Health said yesterday.

The pregnant woman had been in an at-risk group by virtue of her pregnancy. Her unborn child also died. It is understood she was in the first half of her pregnancy.

The child, a girl, had an underlying condition.

The latest deaths bring to 16 the death toll from the pandemic virus in the Republic.

Dr Tony Holohan, chief medical officer at the Department of Health, said the death of the first pregnant woman in the State from swine flu underscored the importance of pregnant women getting vaccinated.

All women more than 14 weeks pregnant and up to six weeks after giving birth are urged to get the swine flu vaccine.

At least 5,000 pregnant women have so far been vaccinated. Meanwhile, swine flu rates in the population in general are stabilising, Dr Holohan confirmed.

He said the rate of infection was at 174.8 cases per 100,000 in the population in the last week, down from 178 per 100,000 a week earlier.

Dr Darina O’Flanagan, director of the Health Protection Surveillance Centre, said the latest infection rates would equate to about 27,000 additional cases of swine flu infection in the population in the past week.

An extra 120 people were hospitalised with the virus in the past week, bringing to 785 the total numbers hospitalised to date with swine flu.

Some 191 of these remain in hospital and 22 are in intensive care.

Dr Holohan confirmed that new information from GlaxoSmithKline, the maker of one of two swine flu vaccines being used here, showed most people would only require one dose of its vaccine, Pandemrix.

However, children under 13 years and those with suppressed immunity such as cancer patients will require two doses.

Pandemrix is the vaccine distributed to GPs by the HSE.

Anyone who gets the Baxter vaccine, which is given at HSE vaccination clinics, will require two doses.

More than 85,000 doses of the swine flu vaccine have now been administered in the State and so far 113 adverse reactions to it have been reported, Dr Joan Gilvarry of the Irish Medicines Board said.

Dr Pat Doorley, national director of population health with the HSE, said at-risk groups aged six months to 65 years were still being vaccinated and it was hoped to begin vaccinating those aged over 65 years in the week beginning November 23rd.

The vaccination of children under five years is also about to start and the HSE will go into schools later in the month to begin vaccinating those aged five to 18 years. Hospitals began vaccinating healthcare workers this week.

  • An adult with underlying health conditions has died from swine flu, the North’s Department of Health has reported. This brings the total number of swine flu-related deaths in Northern Ireland to 11.
A DOCTOR WRITES
  • THE DEATH of the first pregnant woman from swine flu in the Republic will come as a real shock to many women and their partners.

    Although predicted by experts, the death of an otherwise healthy woman and her unborn child underscores the vulnerability of expectant mothers to the pandemic (H1N1) 2009 influenza virus. The reason pregnant women are four times more likely to require hospitalisation than the rest of the population is probably due to the fact that during pregnancy, a woman’s immune system is naturally suppressed. So when attacked by the swine flu virus, it is less able to mount a robust response in the form of antibodies designed to repel the viral invasion.

    We also know that in the small minority of people who require intensive hospital treatment, many experience the release of large quantities of substances called cytokines into the bloodstream. These chemicals cause airways to narrow which may lead to acute respiratory distress syndrome and the need for ventilation. Overwhelming infection can cause other organs, such as the kidneys, to shut down. The virus may also infect brain cells with serious consequences.

    While some pregnant women have found it difficult to make a decision whether to be immunised against swine flu or not, this tragic death reinforces the public health advice that vaccination is warranted. Both vaccines available in the Republic – Pandemrix and Celvapan – are licensed for use from 14 weeks of pregnancy. Expectant mothers who are concerned about booster additives in vaccines may wish to choose Celvapan, the version available from HSE and antenatal clinics, which contains killed H1N1 virus without a booster.

    DR MUIRIS HOUSTON