Swine flu tests 'not practical' as 500 fall ill within a week


MORE THAN 500 people were diagnosed with the H1N1 “swine flu” virus by Irish GPs last week, more than twice the number of cases to date confirmed by laboratory tests, the Department of Health has revealed.

The department and the Health Service Executive also confirmed yesterday that two people are now critically ill in hospital with the virus.

Some 226 cases of the virus have been confirmed by laboratory testing. However, this no longer reflected the number of people who had contracted swine flu, said Dr Tony Holohan, chief medical officer with the department.

“The number of laboratory confirmed cases has ceased to be a meaningful measure of the burden of the infection in the population.”

It was no longer practical to test everyone who presented to their GPs with symptoms of the virus, Dr Holohan said, and the HSE had moved to a policy of calculating numbers of cases through GP diagnosis, instead of laboratory testing. The number of cases would be calculated weekly using a sample of 50 GP practices. In the week up to Sunday last more than 500 cases were diagnosed.

Some 12 people have been hospitalised with the illness so far and two of them have required treatment in intensive care, Dr Holohan said.

St James’s Hospital Dublin has said that a man in his 30s, from Slovakia but living in Ireland for some years, was admitted last week and was critically ill with the virus. Dr Holohan would not confirm if this man was one of the two patients admitted to intensive care. He said he was not prepared to give any details of any cases and would not confirm if either of these patients had underlying illnesses.

The HSE has also advised GPs to stop administering Tamiflu as a preventive drug. The drug should now only by administered to people with severe symptoms or chronic underlying illnesses, it said yesterday.

HSE head of population health Dr Pat Doorley said he was aware GPs were coming under increasing pressure to administer Tamiflu to those who were not ill or who had mild symptoms.

“We are aware that anecdotally there is some pressure on GPs to prescribe Tamiflu. We would ask people to understand that they need not expect a prescription for Tamiflu if they have the flu.”

Dr Darina O’Flanagan of the Health Protection Surveillance Centre said it was inadvisable to give Tamiflu to “normal healthy individuals” because of the risk of resistance building up to the anti-viral medicine. It was also important that supplies were directed to where they were most needed she said. The HSE still expected to begin a national vaccination campaign this autumn, Dr Holohan said, despite a “disappointingly low” yield at the facilities where the vaccine is in development.

It plans to offer two doses of the vaccination to everyone in the country, but the roll-out to the entire country is likely to take six to 12 months, he said.

Meanwhile the GAA has postponed a match in Cavan next Saturday because of concerns over swine flu.

The Down versus Dublin All- Ireland minor football championship quarter-final will not go ahead at Kingspan Breffni Park on Saturday after a large number of Down players became ill.

The GAA has not confirmed if the players had swine flu but there was a “serious viral infection within the Down minor panel which has affected the overwhelming majority of the Down players”.