Swine flu numbers stabilise ahead of likely winter surge

 

THE NUMBER of human swine flu cases presented to GPs last week fell by about 100, but the Department of Health has said the figure will increase again in the coming months.

In the seven days up to last Sunday, the incidence of the H1N1 virus was 32.5 cases per 100,000 of population, the equivalent of some 1,400 cases nationally.

Deputy chief medical officer Dr John Devlin said the number of cases of the virus had “stabilised” in Ireland following an almost three-fold increase from 12.5 to 37 cases per 100,000 the previous week.

“I must say that we do expect the number in the community and in hospitals to rise again,” he said during a briefing on swine flu at Government Buildings last night.

Dr Devlin said that 70 per cent of those who had contracted the virus were under 30 and that an increase in the level of in-country transmission, rather than people contracting it while travelling, had resulted in about 15 localised outbreaks of the virus nationwide.

Gavin Maguire, the assistant head of emergency planning in the Health Service Executive (HSE), said significant volumes of the swine flu vaccine would not arrive in Ireland until the end of September or early October.

In total, 7.7 million vaccines will be bought from three foreign pharmaceutical companies – GlaxoSmith-Kline, Baxter Healthcare and Allphar Services – at a combined cost of about €80 million.

EU regulators are expected to fast-track approval of swine flu vaccines to ensure they are available for the start of winter.

The World Health Organisation said yesterday that fast-track procedures do not reduce safety. It said vaccines had to be available quickly and in large quantities to have the greatest impact.

Vaccines will be given initially to people at high risk along with healthcare staff and other essential workers.

Dr Darina O’Flanagan of the Health Protection Surveillance Centre said it was impossible to predict how many cases of the virus might occur in Ireland but that a more dramatic wave of the virus could be expected in winter.

Dr Devlin said the State’s vaccination immunisation plans were “well advanced”.

Dr Devlin said the current rate was well below that recorded during an outbreak of common flu in January of this year, which showed an incidence of 120 cases per 100,000 of the population.

To date, 27 people in Ireland had been hospitalised by the virus, with three people treated in intensive care units, said Dr Devlin.