Ireland out of swine flu 'alert' zone as spread of virus drops

By Eilish O'Regan Health Correspondent
Wednesday December 09 2009

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IRELAND has moved out of the European alert level danger zone for swine flu and is among nine countries where the spread of the virus has been dropping for at least two consecutive weeks.

The European Centre for Disease Prevention and Control's latest report put flu activity here as "high" rather than its previous level of "very high".

The only remaining countries with the "very high" ranking are Greece and Lithuania, according to the report.

Ireland, Denmark, Estonia, Germany, Latvia, Luxembourg, Norway, Poland, Slovenia and Sweden also reported high intensity. Other countries, including Britain, ranked as medium intensity.

In all countries, including Ireland, children under 15 years are the most affected age group.

There were 41 new deaths reported to the end of last month, bringing the total in Europe to 483, including 18 in Ireland. However, the real European toll is much higher than official figures.

The UK has reported the most deaths (127) followed by France (92), Germany (66) and the Netherlands (37).

The drop in intensity is mostly due to the numbers of people who are now vaccinated against swine flu. It should drop significantly in the coming weeks as the high-risk group -- schoolchildren -- receive the vaccine.

It means if Ireland is hit by a second wave that the impact could be diluted because so many will have been protected against catching the flu. But health authorities warn the swine flu rates are still high, particularly among children. There is also a risk of seasonal flu rising in January as happened last year.


In a recent briefing the director of the European Centre for Disease Control, Zsuzsanna Jakab, said the first wave affected a few western European countries, like the UK in the summer, before declining.

"Millions of Europeans are becoming ill, our hospitals are stressed in the most affected countries and regrettably, hundreds of Europeans have already died from the virus," she said.

Pandemic influenza deaths have been seen in all EU member states and it is now affecting the centre and east of the EU.

The strain H1N1 is the dominant influenza virus in all countries. Based on samples currently being tested, H1N1 accounts for 99pc of the influenza in the EU. It is possible that seasonal influenza viruses will appear later on this winter, but for the moment this is not happening.

Pandemic waves should soon start to decline in the countries first affected. But it is very important to remember that despite a peak there are more hospitalisations and more deaths afterwards than there are before.

There can be a time lag between peak of infections and peak of deaths. Pressure on intensive care units will continue for some weeks after the peak of infections.

- Eilish O'Regan Health Correspondent
Irish Independent