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James Westhead reports for BBC News
"Ministers believe the virus is unusually virulent"
 real 28k

Sunday, 9 January, 2000, 04:49 GMT
Flu 'epidemic' warning

Hospitals are under intense pressure

The flu outbreak sweeping the UK has reached "serious epidemic" levels, the government's chief medical officer has said.

Flu: numbers of cases (per 100,000 population)
England (400 = epidemic) 144
Northern Ireland (400) 145
Wales (400) 128
Scotland (1,000) 540

Professor Liam Donaldson said that 300 in every 100,000 Britons now has flu, and he warned the figure may be much higher.

He said there were probably twice as many people suffering from the bug than the official statistics indicated, because of the thousands who are suffering without informing their doctors.

A Department of Health spokeswoman said the official statistics showed there were currently 144 people in every 100,000 suffering from flu.

As the usual gauge of an epidemic was 400 people in every 100,000, she said, the flu crisis was therefore not being officially treated as an epidemic by the government.

But she added: "Professor Donaldson is happy to stick by his version that this is an epidemic.

"He believes it is many more than 144 per 100,000. It is very confusing and it depends on which definition you choose.

Liam Donaldson: Says not all flu cases are reported
"Professor Donaldson has looked at his graph and said it is a serious epidemic."

However, pressure on the UK's intensive care units is expected ease within the next fortnight, despite flu cases reaching their seasonal peak.

Some hospitals, such as Eastbourne District Hospital, which serves a more elderly population, have had to hire refrigerated trailers to serve as makeshift morgues when space in existing facilities ran out.

Flu: have you got it?
Symptoms: sudden onset, high temperature, shivers, 'too ill to move' feeling, muscle and joint pain, deep cough causing restricted breathing
Treatment: lower temperature with paracetamol, increase fluid intake, complete rest for a few days
Vulnerable: elderly, very young, those with existing respiratory problems, eg. severe asthma/chronic obstructive pulmonary disease
Hospital: the above people may need hospital care if breathing problems worsen
NB: antibiotics do not help flu - unless you are a vulnerable patient it is pointless taking them

Christine Hancock, general secretary of the Royal College of Nursing, told the BBC that the problem lay not in a shortage of actual beds, but in hospitals having too few nurses to accompany them.

Intensive care nursing involves having more than one nurse - each fully trained in specialist skills - assigned to each patient at any one time.

Many hospitals have already been forced to cancel planned surgery because no intensive care facilities are available for patients following their operations.

Sir Alan Langlands, chief executive of the NHS, told the BBC he was confident people were getting the right care.

He said: "Anyone who will benefit from intensive care is getting that care from the health service."

The number of empty intensive care beds in the country rose to 31, from 20, on Saturday, a Department of Health spokeswoman said.

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See also:
08 Jan 00 |  Health
Flu pushes NHS to breaking point
06 Jan 00 |  Health
Tackling the misery of flu
08 Apr 99 |  Medical notes
Flu: The facts
05 Jan 00 |  Scotland
Flu ravages Scotland
30 Dec 99 |  Health
Flu cases on the rise
28 Dec 99 |  Health
Holiday flu grips nation
04 Oct 99 |  Health
Flu drug row intensifies
06 Oct 99 |  Health
Another flu drug on the way
02 Sep 99 |  Health
Cost warning on flu drug
06 Jan 99 |  Health
Doctors warn against flu panic

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