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Swine flu cases continue to fall

Fergus Walsh | 17:48 UK time, Thursday, 17 December 2009

I doubt the latest fall in H1N1 swine flu cases will warrant more than the briefest of mentions in the media, but this blog is there to report the good as well as the bad. And perhaps I should say the ugly, as I am typing this with a large amount of purple silicone goo in each ear. Before you wonder whether this is some strange BBC festive ritual, I am in fact having ear-pieces made for each ear - the clear plastic things which allow the editor or the director in the gallery to shout, cajole or bark instructions to me during live broadcasts.

Back to swine flu and there is more reassuring news today from across the UK. Cases of swine flu appear to be falling throughout the country. It means the second wave of the pandemic is on its way out, though there is still a chance of an upsurge in seasonal flu after Christmas.

Generally then, there is less flu about and most people who get it either are not aware they are infected or have a very mild disease. There were an estimated 9,000 new cases of swine flu in the past week in England, compared with 11,000 the week before. In Scotland there were around 8,000 cases, down from nearly 9,000 the week before. Cases are continuing to fall in Wales and Northern Ireland.

But there is another side to swine flu. In England there are more than 500 people in hospital with swine-flu-related conditions, more than 100 of them in intensive care. And there've been almost 300 deaths since the outbreak began in April. In the past week another 16 people have died across the UK. That's a tiny number compared to what was feared. But Sir Liam Donaldson, the Chief Medical Officer said:

"You can take a cold statistical view and look at the 300 deaths and throw your hat in the air. Or you can look at the families who may not have a child or a father or mother around the table this Christmas. If we can prevent those deaths then that is a reason to throw your hat in the air."
Only today, health officials in Scotland announced that a child had died after catching swine flu. The youngster, whose details have not been released, also had another health condition and was being treated in the Glasgow and Clyde Health Board. Of the 299 deaths, 56 have been in Scotland, 26 in Wales, 14 in Northern Ireland and 203 in England.

The numbers immunised against H1N1 swine flu continue to rise. I can't give you UK-wide figures at present, because the four nations don't collect their data in the same way, but I do have the statistics for England: three million people in the first priority groups have received the jab, including 101,000 pregnant women. 343,000 front line health workers have been vaccinated, about three times the number given the seasonal flu jab last year.

Two-thirds of primary care trusts in England have now reached agreement for GPs to immunise the under-fives and the others are said to be "very close" to signing up. The rise in immunisation may well help curb any third wave of swine flu.

Graph showing GPs' weekly consultations

As usual, have a look at the bold red line, which is good for showing trends and you'll see that flu-like illness rates with GPs have fallen below the baseline threshold of 30.0 per 100,000. This simply confirms that there is not that much flu about.

Graph comparing the first and second waves of swine flu

This is useful because it shows, contrary to what some might have imagined, that the second wave of flu this autumn has been bigger than the first in early summer. The peak in July was higher but it fell more quickly, whereas the second wave is craggier and longer-lasting.

Graph showing number of hospitalisations

This shows that, as well as having more cases, the second wave has seen many more hospitalisations.

Graph showing the picture in USA

The picture in the United States where consultations due to flu-like illness continue to fall - reassuring as in the previous two waves our peaks followed a few weeks after theirs.

Useful resources:

Detailed UK weekly epidemiology update
Swine flu figures for Northern Ireland
Swine flu figures for Scotland
Swine flu figures for Wales

The goo is out of my ears and my blog is done. I wish you all a peaceful and swine-flu free festive period. I will try to blog over the festive period as and when there is news to report.


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