Northern Ireland

Northern Ireland swine flu patients 'are more ill'

H1N1 virus
Image caption There are more than 200 cases of H1N1 infection in Northern Ireland

The doctor in charge of acute hospital services in Belfast has said there are fewer critical cases of swine flu this year, but those affected are more ill.

Dr Patricia Donnelly said although critical care units were busy, beds were still available in Belfast and across Northern Ireland.

She said in Belfast there were five patients with swine flu in critical care out of a total of 33.

Across NI the number was fluctuating between 25% and 35% of critical beds.

She said there was only one child with swine flu in critical care and another child with a different type of flu.

"A smaller number of patients are affected this time, but those who were affected definitely are sicker," Dr Donnelly said.

"Critical care is always busy throughout the year, but we have well tested plans to increase our capacity as and when it is required.

"At this point in time both in Belfast and across the region we are using those escalation plans and we have created additional capacity."

Significant rise

Meanwhile, the deputy chair of the BMA's NI GPs committee has said he expects to see a "significant rise" in the number of cases of swine flu in Northern Ireland when figures are released on Thursday.

The Public Health Agency (PHA) will publish new figures later.

Dr Tom Black said GPs had dealt with an increase in flu like illness over Christmas and New Year and he expects the PHA figures to reflect this.

More than 200 people are currently being treated for the virus.

Dr Black said the "predominant strain to date is the H1N1 swine flu".

He said GPs are advising patients in the high risk groups,who have not yet attended for flu vaccination, to contact their practice.

"Normally healthy patients with flu like symptoms can usually stay at home taking fluids and paracetamol, only contacting their GP if they developed complications such as chest pain, shortness of breath or confusion," he said.

Pregnant women

"It is very important that all pregnant women attend for vaccination as swine flu is four times more risky for them."

The PHA is also urging all pregnant women to get the swine flu vaccine.

The number of people found to have the H1N1 swine flu virus in NI in the week before Christmas had previously doubled to 129.

On Tuesday the Public Health Agency revealed the number of swine flu cases in Northern Ireland has increased to more than 200, in the last week.

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