Cases of swine flu double in two weeks


THE NUMBER of confirmed cases of swine flu in Ireland has almost doubled during the past two weeks, according to new Department of Health figures.

There are now 23 confirmed cases of H1N1 in Ireland, four of which involved in-country transmission.

On June 11th, the day when the World Health Organisation (WHO) raised its pandemic flu alert to phase 6 on a six-point scale, indicating the first influenza pandemic since 1968, there were 12 confirmed cases here.

A “pandemic” simply means that there has been sustained human-to-human transmission of the virus in more than one region.

Chief medical officer at the Department of Health, Dr Tony Holohan, told The Irish Timesthat while there had been a rise in confirmed cases, the number of people who had contracted the flu remained at a low level.

“The majority of people who have contracted the virus have made a full recovery and those that haven’t yet are in the community.”

Dr Holohan said that while most cases had involved individuals who had recently returned from the US and Mexico, this probably reflected an older pattern of transmission.

“The virus is now spreading so people don’t necessarily have had to have been in the Americas to pick it up. They could have been to the UK, mainland Europe, Asia or even parts of the Antipodes,” he said.

Dr Holohan said Ireland would continue to see cases of swine flu at a low level over the summer but was preparing for an “upswing” in the autumn.

“Influenza is a virus that is transmitted in a very seasonal pattern and so even with normal influenza there is usually a big upswing in the winter time and then it tends to abate significantly in the summer time.”

The number of confirmed cases of H1N1 worldwide now totals 52,160 in more than 80 countries, and includes 231 deaths, according to the latest WHO figures. The first reported death from the virus in Asia was reported yesterday where a 49-year-old woman from Manila in the Philippines died from congestive heart failure after contracting the H1N1 virus.

At this stage the pandemic is still being characterised globally as moderate in severity.

“Expert virologists are saying that there’s nothing to indicate any behavioural change that would suggest a mutation in the virus,” said Dr Holohan.

The Department of Health Children and the HSE are continuing to plan and prepare for a scenario where there could be widespread transmission of the disease in Ireland. The HSE says it has accumulated anti-viral stockpiles to treat almost half of the population.

Dr Holohan said the low level of cases in Ireland was largely due to the aggressive approach taken in identifying and treating people who had been in contact with individuals diagnosed with H1N1. “This has helped to prevent the virus becoming widespread but we’re not being complacent. It could happen that it does get a foothold at any time because it is a virus that is easily transmitted.”

The State faces a bill of €85 million arising from the swine flu pandemic, of which almost €80 million will go on purchasing a vaccine.

Meanwhile, the Co Mayo schoolgirl confirmed with swine flu last week has made “a full recovery”, according to her school principal.

The girl, a pupil in first class, is believed to have contracted the influenza A (H1N1) virus from a relative who was visiting from the US.