PHA reassures the public after two deaths in people with no underlying health problems

Today the PHA published the flu bulletin and confirmed that between 1–7 January 2011, there were 204 new laboratory confirmed cases of swine flu in Northern Ireland compared to 200 in the last week of December 2010. The figures show that although flu is continuing to circulate in the community, the rate of increase in new confirmed cases is slowing.

As of Wednesday 12 January 2011, 17 people have died from H1N1 flu during the current flu season. Of these, 14 had underlying medical conditions that predispose them to develop a complication of influenza, 2 did not, and 1 is still to be confirmed. The 2 people who had no underlying health conditions were both adults. This year there have been no deaths of pregnant women and as previously reported 1 in a child.

Dr Carolyn Harper, Director of Public Health for Northern Ireland, said: “In the UK last year, around 23% of people, who died from swine flu, had no underlying conditions. The current figure here is now 13%. Our numbers are small and should not be over interpreted, but advice we have is that the current pattern of swine flu here is not different to that in other parts of the UK.”

People should also be reassured by the fact that the World Health Organization has said that there is no evidence that the swine flu virus is changing. Unfortunately these deaths are a reminder of the fact that for a small number of people, and still particularly those with underlying medical conditions, swine flu can be a very serious illness. Other people are also affected but their risk is much lower.”

Vaccination still remains the most effective way to protect those who are most at risk from flu and its complications. Dr Harper continued; “While many people in the ‘at risk’ groups who have been offered vaccine have taken up that offer, some have not. It is not too late to get protected and you should see your GP about being immunised as soon as possible.”

At today’s briefing, Mr John Compton, Chief Executive, Health and Social Care Board, outlined the position with regards to the impact of flu and seasonal winter pressures on health and social care services.

Mr Compton, said: “The service continues to be busy with flu and seasonal winter pressures continuing to pose a challenge, however these pressures are being effectively managed across Northern Ireland and normal escalation arrangements are in place to cope with any expected demands at this time.”

He continued: “The position, as of Wednesday, 12 January 2011, is that 30 out of 83 adult critical care patients and 4 out of 8 paediatric critical care patients are being treated for flu.

Of all patients being treated in hospital in Northern Ireland today, approximately three per cent have been confirmed with swine flu or are suspected as having it. This is not unusual at this time of year when flu is most prevalent.”

At this time of year, the service would normally undertake around 1,100 planned inpatient procedures in a week. As a result of the measures agreed between the Board and Trusts last week to expand critical care capacity, it has been necessary to defer 160 elective inpatient cases across Northern Ireland. Decisions about the deferral of individual cases have been taken by clinicians. While we very much regret the impact on each and every one of these patients, these measures have been successful in enabling Trusts to ensure that anyone needing critical care has been able to have it. Whilst the controls remain until the end of the week, it has been agreed that each hospital should review its position and where practical undertake as much elective activity as possible.

The Board is continuing to work closely with Trusts and primary care colleagues to ensure that services are maintained for the community. Emergency departments, whilst busy, are fully open and although primary care services continue to report they are busy, they are coping well.

Staff, particularly those in medical wards and in the intensive care environment, have worked very hard throughout recent days to ensure the minimum possible disruption to patients and their families.

Speaking at the briefing Chief Medical Officer, Dr Michael McBride said: “For the majority of people, flu remains a mild, self-limiting illness that can be treated at home. For some people flu can be more serious requiring hospital care and tragically each year some people die. We have always said that we must not be complacent with what is still a relatively new virus.

“I do want to absolutely reassure the public that there is no shortage of a safe, effective vaccine to provide protection against swine flu. Once again I would ask anyone in the ‘at-risk’ group who has not yet received the vaccine, to make sure they are protected against swine flu. At this stage the majority of people in this group have already received their vaccine thanks to the tremendous efforts of trusts, GPs and their staff. I would also like to thank hospital staff who have been treating people with flu at what is always a very busy period for them.”

For further information and advice on flu visit the Fluaware pages at:


Swine flu – Media briefing – 13 January 2011.ppt291 KB

Notes to the editor

1. A further media briefing and update will take place on Thursday 20 January at the PHA.

2. The latest influenza indicators reported between 1-7 January 2011 are:

• All indicators of influenza virus activity continue to increase.
• GP consultation rates for combined flu/ FLI (flu like illnesses) increased from 195.2/100,000 population (updated) in week 52 to 274.4/100,000 in week 1 (41% increase).
o flu/FLI rates remain well above the Northern Ireland threshold (70/100,000 population);
o flu/FLI rates remain highest in the 15-44 year age group.
• Out-of-hours flu/FLI call rates have decreased from 139.7 per 100,000 population in week 52 to 115.7 per 100,000 in week 1. Flu/FLI rates were highest in the 1-4 year age group.
• The number of influenza A (H1N1) 2009 detections increased from 200 (updated) in week 52 to 204 in week 1.
• One influenza AH3 detection.
• 39 influenza B detections.
• Respiratory syncytial virus (RSV) weekly detections increased from 66 (updated) in week 52 to 79 in week 1 (20% increase).
• As of noon, Wednesday 12 January 2011, there were a total of 17 swine flu related deaths since 1 November 2010. Information regarding co-morbidities was available for 16 cases, of these 14 had co-morbidities.
A copy of the flu bulletin is available on the PHA website

Who should get the flu vaccine?
• Anyone aged 65 or over.
• Children and adults who have any of the following medical conditions:
– a chronic chest condition such as asthma;
– a chronic heart condition;
– chronic liver disease;
– chronic kidney disease;
– diabetes;
– lowered immunity due to disease or treatment such as steroids or cancer therapy;
– a chronic neurological condition such as stroke, multiple sclerosis or a condition that affects your nervous system, such as cerebral palsy.
• Pregnant women regardless of their stage of pregnancy.
• Anyone living in a residential or nursing home.
• If you are the main carer for an elderly or disabled person.
• Children who have previously been admitted to hospital with a chest infection.

Further information

For information on issues contained in the flu bulletin contact the PHA Press Office on 028 9031 1611.
For matters on Health and Social Care services and winter pressures contact the HSCB on 028 9032 1313.
For vaccination policy/other policy issues contact the DHSSPS press office on 028 9052 0074.