Britain suffers its first swine flu death
The death in Scotland is the first in Britain caused directly by swine flu
Kaya Burgess and Melanie Reid
It is understood that the victim was a woman aged 38 in the Royal Alexandra Hospital in Paisley, who had been admitted to intensive care suffering from the H1N1 virus.
The death is the first in the world not in the Americas, where the outbreak was first identified in Mexico in March.
A statement issued last night by the Scottish government said: “With regret, we can confirm that one of the patients who had been in hospital, and had been confirmed as suffering from the H1N1 virus, has died today.”
The statement added that the patient had had “underlying health conditions”, suggesting that the swine flu virus might not have been the only contributing factor.
The patient was one of ten people who had been in hospital with the virus in Scotland. At least three people with underlying health problems were admitted to intensive care at the Royal Alexandra in recent days — among them was a man, 45, a woman, 23, and a woman, 38, who gave birth two months prematurely as a result of the virus.
It is believed tests have shown that the baby does not have the infection.
Yesterday 35 new cases of swine flu were identified in Scotland, bringing the total to 498, almost half of the total cases in Britain, which now amount to 1,226. Sixty-one more cases were confirmed in England, bringing the total number of cases to 752, with eight in Northern Ireland and three in Wales.
Across Scotland another 175 unconfirmed cases of swine flu, which has predominantly affected younger people, were being investigated yesterday.
Last night Nicola Sturgeon, the Scottish Health Secretary, said: “I’d like to express my condolences to the patient’s family and friends. They have my heartfelt sympathy.
“I would like to emphasise that the vast majority of those who have H1N1 are suffering from relatively mild symptoms.
“The risk to the general public remains low and we can all play our part in slowing the spread of the virus by following simple procedures like washing your hands and using tissues when coughing or sneezing.”
The first case was confirmed in Britain on April 27. Graeme Pacitti, from Falkirk, subsequently became the first man to contract the disease from within Britain, after contact with newlyweds who had recently returned from honeymoon in Mexico.
Andy Burnham, the new Health Secretary, said in a statement to the Commons on Friday that Britain had enough anti-viral drugs to treat half of the population and that plans had been made to raise that figure to 80 per cent. He added that agreements were in place to allow the Government to purchase 132 million doses of vaccine — enough for two doses for the entire population. Orders had been placed for 226 million face masks, 34 million respirators and 15.2 million courses of antibiotics.
He said: “We recognised from the outset that we would be unlikely to prevent a widespread outbreak indefinitely.”
A Department of Health spokesman said: “The localised cases of swine flu found in the UK have so far been generally mild in most people, but are proving to be severe in a small minority of cases. We are continuing to work to slow the spread of the disease and to put in place arrangements to ensure that the UK is well-placed to deal with this new infection.”
Experts are predicting that the number of cases will rise significantly during the autumn and winter months, though they emphasised that this was common with all strains of flu, which tend to be seasonal.
Professor Hugh Pennington, a bacteriologist at Aberdeen University, said that the death did not necessarily mark a worsening of the outbreak in Britain. “It does not point to the virus getting nastier. All the evidence to date suggests the virus is not changing at all,” he said.
“This is a flu virus, it is in no way different from an ordinary winter flu virus, so if there are enough cases some people will have to be admitted to hospital and some will die.”