Swine flu activity has decreased further

The PHA flu bulletin for the period 15-21 January 2011 shows that new flu cases and GP consultation rates continue to decrease. There were only 41 new laboratory confirmed cases of swine flu in Northern Ireland last week compared to 86 in the second week of January 2011.

Vaccination uptake figures showed that at the end of December 2010, the proportion of people in Northern Ireland aged 65 years and over who had received the 2010/11 seasonal influenza vaccine was 69.8%, while the uptake in those aged under 65 in an at risk group was 62.7%. This compares with 77% uptake in the over 65 years, and 81.8% in the under 65 at risk group, for the same period last year during the pandemic.

Dr Maureen McCartney, Consultant in Health Protection, PHA, said: “It is reassuring that the number of new flu cases per week has once again more than halved. If the current trend continues, swine flu has passed its peak.”

As of noon on Wednesday 26 January 2011, 23 people have died from H1N1 flu during the current flu season. Of these, 20 had underlying medical conditions that predispose them to developing serious complications of flu, 2 did not and details for the remaining death have not been confirmed.”

Dr McCartney continued, “I would like to offer my sincere condolences to those who have been bereaved. Any death is a very deep personal loss for the families involved.

Vaccination still remains the most effective way to protect those who are most at risk from flu and its complications. While vaccination rates are down from those during the pandemic, this was to be expected. We are confident that the considerable efforts to increase uptake from the beginning of December will be reflected in the final vaccination figures, which are usually available at the end of March, marking the end of the normal flu season. These are expected to reflect a welcome increase in uptake in January.

While many people in the at risk groups have already taken up their offer of vaccine, some still have not. But it is not too late to get protected and you should see your GP about being vaccinated as soon as possible. Supplies of safe and effective vaccine against swine flu are available for at risk groups.”

At today’s briefing, Dr Margaret O’Brien, Assistant Director, Integrated Care, HSCB, outlined the position with regard to the impact of flu and seasonal winter pressures on the health and social care services.

Dr O’Brien, said: “The service continues to be busy with seasonal winter pressures, however these pressures are being managed effectively across Northern Ireland and normal escalation arrangements are in place to cope with any expected demands at this time.”

She continued: “The position, as of Wednesday, 26 January 2011, is that 12 out of 75 adult critical care patients and no paediatric critical care patients are being treated for flu like illness. This is a further improvement on the position last week, and as a result we continue to operate the normal local arrangements for managing critical care capacity. It has therefore not been necessary to cancel any elective activity due to swine flu in the past week.

“Of all patients being treated in hospital in Northern Ireland today, approximately 1.2 per cent are being treated as confirmed or suspected swine flu. This is a further reduction on the position last week.”

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

DHSSPS Senior Medical Officer Dr Liz Reaney said: “I would like to offer my deepest sympathies to the families of those whose deaths have been reported this week, during what is undoubtedly an extremely sad time for them.”

She added: “The vaccination uptake figures published today are extremely encouraging and reflect the ongoing dedication of GPs and all other staff involved in the vaccination programme.

“During this time of increased pressure on the health service, our hospital and community staff should also be commended for their ongoing hard work and commitment, including caring for those ill with flu.

“The further decrease in the levels of swine flu circulating in Northern Ireland is very much in keeping with the picture across the rest of the UK. However, is still important that the public do not become complacent and maintain high standards of respiratory and hand hygiene. We will continue to keep the situation under close review in the coming weeks.”

For further information and advice on flu visit the fluaware pages at: www.publichealth.hscni.net

Notes to the editor

1. A copy of the PHA flu bulletin is available on the fluaware pages and on the main PHA website www.publichealth.hscni.net

2. Deaths reported in the PHA flu bulletin do not include that of a child resident in the Republic of Ireland.

3. 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 policy issues contact the DHSSPS press office on 028 9052 0074.