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Swine flu cases fall but jabs must continue

GPs should maintain the programme to vaccinate at-risk patients despite drop

OnMedica staff

Friday, 05 February 2010

Latest figures show that the numbers of reported cases of H1N1 influenza in England are near their lowest weekly level since the disease first came to the UK, and the numbers of people receiving antivirals through the National Pandemic Flu Service (NPFS) has declined sharply.

But fatalities are still occurring from swine flu – 19 confirmed deaths in the past fortnight – and many patients are still being admitted to critical care with complications from the virus.

As OnMedica reported on Tuesday, Chief medical officer Sir Liam Donaldson has announced that the NPFS will be stood down as of next Thursday, 11 February, and patients will thereafter contact their GP if they need advice or wish to request anti-viral treatment.

Sir Liam has stressed that the pandemic H1N1 (2009) vaccination programme is still being delivered to vulnerable people: front line health and social care staff; highest priority groups (those with underlying illness and pregnant women); and healthy children aged 6 months to under 5 years.

In England, 30% of deaths from swine flu have been in people with no or only mild prior illness. Public information campaigns will continue to emphasise the importance of getting vaccinated to prevent complications, hospital admission and death in potential future outbreaks of the disease, especially given that pandemic H1N1 (2009) is likely to be the predominant influenza virus during the 2010-11 flu season.

The CMO has welcomed the acceleration in vaccination rates for healthy pre-school-aged children, whom he said in his report remain disproportionately vulnerable, and the most likely to require hospitalisation with complications if they catch the virus: “I am pleased to see increasing uptake of vaccine amongst the under-fives. Deaths in this age group have been deeply distressing. When the virus returns I would very much like to see young children already protected.

“From now on, most deaths from the pandemic flu virus should be regarded as potentially preventable; general practitioners have the vaccine and stand ready to offer this vital protection. Parents should contact their general practitioner now to make an appointment.

“Young children who have the jab now will be protected should H1N1 (2009) influenza return in the next flu season. Pregnant women and those in all other at-risk groups should continue to have the vaccine as well.”

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