England Faces Swine Flu Outbreak

In the past week the number of new swine flu cases in England increased to 53,000 from 27,000 the previous week, the country’s top doctor said today.

The H1N1 virus that causes swine flu has killed 122 people in the U.K., up 16 in the last week, since April, England’s Chief Medical Officer Liam Donaldson said at a press conference. The number of people hospitalized with the illness rose to 506, including 99 in intensive care, the highest level since the pandemic began, Donaldson said.

“Over the last week we’ve seen a faster rate of increase than we’ve seen in the last few weeks,” Donaldson said.

The U.K. began its vaccination program yesterday by immunizing workers at University College London Hospital, Donaldson said. Medical personnel, pregnant women, people who have regular contact with those who have weakened immune systems, and people with underlying health conditions who usually get priority for seasonal flu shots are the first to get inoculated against swine flu, Bloomberg reports.

In the meantime, plans have been drawn up over the last few months to double the number of intensive care beds to over 4,000.

And with the UK well into the second peak, concerns are being raised about the sustained pressure that will be put on the health service.

Mr Dalton said: "If current trends continue we are going to have to surge capacity. My message now is that the NHS must be ready," BBC News reports.

It was also reported, the swine flu outbreak has led to the Department of Health facing the "most difficult winter" in many years.

Senior health officials made the remark during an emergency meeting with the Stormont health committee.

However, committee chairman Jim Wells said he felt "a lot more reassured" after the meeting that the department was "on top of the difficulty".

A swine flu vaccination programme for children with complex special needs began on Thursday, BBC News reports.

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