Swine flu cases double in a week

The UK death toll rises to 128

The number of swine flu cases has doubled in just one week, with hospitals reporting record numbers of patients being treated in the pandemic.

As the death toll rose to 128, health officials said the disease appeared to be affecting younger people and those without pre-existing health conditions. Sir Liam Donaldson, the government’s chief medical officer said: ‘It looks as if the virus is having a different impact in the flu season than it had in the summer.’

New figures suggest 53,000 people have gone down with the disease compared with last week’s total of 27,000. Sir Liam admitted doctors were, ‘very unnerved by the severity of illness and how life-and-death situations arose very early’.

Most of those dying were aged under 65 and more than half were under 45. This is different to seasonal flu, where most deaths occur in the over-65s. ‘It’s highly unusual to have so many younger people dying. We should not pass this off as an acceptable number,’ he added.

Sir Liam warned that the rise in severe cases would put increased pressure on hospital beds: ‘We are starting to worry about the sustained pressure over the winter that the NHS might face.’ Despite this, the number expected to catch the virus over the winter has dropped from original estimates of 30 per cent to 12 per cent of the population – about 7.3million people.

In addition, a national swine flu immunisation campaign was launched on Wednesday. Frontline health workers and hospital patients deemed at risk, such as pregnant women and cancer sufferers, were the first to receive the vaccine. GPs will begin immunising at-risk groups in the community, including pregnant women and people with chronic conditions such as heart disease and diabetes, from Monday.

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