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New Swine Flu Cases Double in England, Raising Fears of a Pandemic

July 23, 2009 02:00 PM
by Anita Gutierrez-Folch
Reported cases of swine flu in England doubled to 100,000 during the past week, leaving nearly 1,000 hospitalized and hinting at a pandemic.

100,000 New Cases of Swine Flu in England

During the past week, the U.K. Department of Health saw an alarming rise in reported cases of swine flu, from 55,000 cases the previous week to almost 100,000, the Daily Mail reports. The area of Tower Hamlets in east London seems to be the epicenter of the outbreak, with the “highest number of GP consultations for people with flu-like illness.”

According to the Daily Mail, 840 of these cases had to be hospitalized due to the effects of the disease, and 63 of them are in intensive care. The majority of hospitalized cases—435—are people between 16 and 64 years of age; the second largest group are children under 5 years of age, with 169 hospitalizations.

Sir Liam Donaldson, England’s chief medical officer, has not yet updated last week’s provisional death report, which potentially attributed 26 deaths to swine flu. “Some have gone out and some have come in,” he told the Daily Mail. “We are down to the sorts of numbers where it might be possible to identify individuals.” Most of the deceased, however, were afflicted with another medical condition such as leukemia or diabetes.

Donaldson was unable to explain the reason behind England’s vulnerability to the disease in comparison to the rest of Europe, suggesting that “better surveillance systems” in England may allow it to be better aware of the situation than other European countries.

Reactions: National Pandemic Flu Service overwhelmed

Public concern created by the spread of the disease has already caused a new government information Web site to collapse due to high traffic. To provide the population with a reliable help service and ease pressure on medical office visits, the government launched the National Pandemic Flu Service, a “new telephone and web service for victims … capable of answering more than one million calls a week,” the Daily Mail reports.

According to the BBC, “In the first few hours, the website was receiving 2,600 hits a second—or 9.3mm an hour.” Using an unprecedented system, the service takes callers through an automated questionnaire to check their symptoms, and then provides them with prescription medications accordingly. Potentially infected callers are given a unique “voucher number,” with which a friend or family member may obtain the medication. Concerns have been expressed about misdiagnosis, or abuse of the system.

“What we have to remember is that this is a unique situation,” Dr Richard Vautrey, one of the designers of the symptom checklist, told the BBC. “So as long as the call handlers get the correct training we can be confident in this service.”

Related Developments: Swine Flu impacts the London Metropolitan Police

The swine flu outbreak has affected the ranks of the London Metropolitan police, where 272 police officers are suspected of having contracted the disease, Police commissioner Sir Paul Stephenson told the BBC. He emphasized, however, that this number was only a “small proportion of the overall workforce,” made up of almost 50,000 people, and that the “robust structure” of the police institution will continue to ensure safety in London.

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