THE rate of swine flu infection rose “significantly” last week, with Department of Health officials fearing that the upward trend may indicate the onset of the winter “spike” in the numbers of those affected by the illness.
Department of Health chief medical officer Dr Tony Holohan told a news conference last night that the rates of “influenza-like infections” rose to 72.2 per 100,000 of the population in the past week from 40 per 100,000 the previous week.
There was an even more dramatic rise in the number of people committed to hospital with 33 more people hospitalised around the country with swine flu over the past seven days, bringing the total number to 147.
Eight people are currently in intensive care with the illness while the number of fatalities has not risen since the summer and remains at two.
Mr Holohan said the rise was “significant” and may indicate “we are at the start of an acceleration phase” in the spread of the pandemic H1N1 virus: “Certainly our assumptions are that that’s what we could be looking at but we’ll know more when we see the rates for next week.”
Mr Holohan said that although the rate had not increased in recent weeks plans had been in place for some time for its sudden acceleration.
Over the past week, the numbers of laboratory confirmed cases of swine flu also greatly increased by 266 to 1,268.
Although there were a further six outbreaks of swine flu in schools in the last week, no institutions have had to be closed due to the illness.
HSE national director of population health Dr Pat Doorley said his organisation’s focus had remained on locating and equipping between 60 and 100 vaccination centres. Some 2,000 frontline health professionals will have to be redeployed to man these centres.
The vaccination process is expected to get under way in the second week in October when the EU licenses the product.
Mr Doorley said organising the vaccination process was a “huge logistical challenge”.
He said although there were still difficulties in the vaccine’s manufacture, he expected to have sufficient supplies in October.
The public were reminded to follow procedures to combat the spread of the virus, including washing their hands and not going to work if they had flu-like symptoms.
The spread of swine flu in the North also continues to gather pace, with GP consultations up for the third week running, according to figures released yesterday.
The latest Department of Health weekly swine flu bulletin revealed there had been another 42 laboratory confirmed cases, an escalation on the total last week and bringing the number in the North to 275.
The number of people in the North admitted to hospital because of the flu increased to 126.
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