Swine flu death toll 'likely to be low' this year

Swine flu Virologist explains why single jab will do, and predicts low mortality rate especially among over-65s.

The second wave of swine flu may cause just 2,000 deaths across the UK, with elderly patients over the age of 65 unlikely to be affected, a leading virologist has claimed.

Earlier this month, the DoH cut its worst case scenario figure from 65,000 to 19,000 deaths after admitting that the virus had been milder than expected.

But speaking at a Royal Society of Medicine meeting last week, Professor John Oxford, from St Bartholomew's and the Royal London Hospitals, said the number of deaths could be even lower than anticipated.

'Overall, it is good news as the virus does not seem to have taken off this year,' he said.

'There will be no more than 2,000 deaths - not even that - if you translate what is happening in Australia, where they are in winter, to here.'

It was important to remember that not everyone will be infected with the virus this year. Some will get it next year and the year after that, he said.

'I do not think anyone over 65 will get the virus this year. It is mainly affecting the young. You are not going to see any deaths in the over-65s because they have immune memory,' Professor Oxford told GP.

'The H1N1 strain has been circulating for many years. We have all been infected with an H1N1 strain already so just one dose of the vaccine will be enough to produce a response.'

The DoH said last month that patients aged 65 and over in the current seasonal flu risk groups should be considered a priority for the swine flu jab.

But figures show that 74 per cent of UK deaths related to swine flu have been in patients under 65. Among elderly patients who died, it is unknown if underlying health problems played a significant role.

Professor Oxford stressed that patients over 65 should still be vaccinated this year but only to offer protection in future years in case the virus mutates.

'These patients should also continue to have the seasonal flu jab as the seasonal strains are still in circulation and have not been replaced by swine flu,' he said.

Professor Lindsey Davies, DoH director of pandemic influenza preparedness, told GP that the plan is to give the vaccine to the high-risk groups and then see how the situation evolves before considering other groups.


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