Spread of swine flu intense - study


THERE ARE particularly intense levels of swine flu activity in Ireland, according to a study of European countries released yesterday.

The weekly Influenza Surveillance Report from the Swedish-based European Centre for Disease Prevention and Control (ECDC) found only Iceland had experienced a similar level of intensity in Europe.

Asked if this meant Ireland had the highest level of flu activity in Europe, Prof Angus Nicoll, flu co-ordinator with ECDC, said it was not possible to say this as not all countries were reporting data. No figures were available for France, Finland, Denmark and Greece, for example.

Furthermore, he said countries such as Sweden and Ireland, for example, could not be compared as they used different systems for measuring flu activity. Germany and the UK also used different methods.

“It could be a mistake to say, therefore, that there’s more intense transmission in Ireland if there are differences in the systems,” he said.

The new report also shows that while there are “particularly severe levels of influenza activity” in Ireland and Iceland now, the situation in Ireland is “stable” while in Iceland flu activity is “decreasing”.

In Ireland and Iceland the most-affected age group was 0-15 year-olds. The report said the swine flu pandemic was now affecting almost all countries in the European Union, but it could not predict how intense the peaks would be.

Bulgaria, Italy, the Netherlands, Norway, Sweden and Northern Ireland were experiencing high intensity, the report said, while Belgium, Estonia, Portugal, Romania, Spain and the rest of the UK had medium activity. All other countries reported low intensity.

Very high intensity is defined by the centre as particularly severe influenza compared to historical data.

The report said the pandemic continues to spread across Europe.

Of the six countries reporting high influenza activity, four are new and for the first time, four others reported an increasing trend. Swine flu is the dominant strain circulating in Europe, while seasonal strains are only sporadic.

Up to 40,000 people could die from swine flu in Europe this year, a conference at the ECDC was told earlier this week.

The figure is similar to the numbers who die from seasonal flu each year. But Prof Nicoll said different age groups from those affected by seasonal flu would die from swine flu.

The deaths would be among younger people, he said.

Speaking yesterday, Minister for Health Mary Harney said the pandemic was “a national emergency as far as the health services are concerned”.

She said she was happy with the roll-out of the swine flu vaccine programme. Some 200,000 vaccines had already been distributed to GPs and Health Service Executive clinics nationwide.

The Minister appealed for co-operation. “We have the capacity working together to be able to vaccinate the population as quickly as possible,” she said.