Page last updated at 22:22 GMT, Thursday, 23 July 2009 23:22 UK

Flu infects 100,000 in past week

By Nick Triggle
Health reporter, BBC News

Sir Liam Donaldson: "In the last few days the numbers don't seem to be increasing so much"

The number of new swine flu infections in England has doubled in the past week, the government says.

There were an estimated 100,000 new cases with the under 14s the worst hit.

It comes as the National Flu Service was launched, offering sufferers access to drugs on the phone and via the internet without the need to see a GP.

Calls have already started flooding in and in the first few hours the website was receiving 2,600 hits a second - or 9.3m an hour.

The government also released new details about deaths.

The latest death toll stands at 26 - the same as last week - but the Department of Health has reclassified the way it counts mortality.

While there has been a number of swine flu deaths in the past seven days, some of last week's total has been discounted after an investigation by the government suggested swine flu had not contributed to their death.

No breakdown of when and where the people died is being given.

THE PANDEMIC FLU SERVICE
People in England can phone 0800 1 513 100 or log on to www.direct.gov.uk/pandemicflu
The network of call centres is being staffed by 1,500 people to start with working from 8am to midnight
They are using a checklist to diagnose swine flu and can issue a voucher number if drugs are required
The public is also able to use the website to fill in the checklist and get access to the drugs that way
Sufferers are still able to go direct to GPs and the under ones, pregnant women and those with underlying health conditions should all contact a doctor if swine flu is suspected

There have been four deaths in Scotland, but they are not comparable to the English figures as officials there have not used the same criteria.

Meanwhile, a pregnant 26-year-old woman has been transferred from Crosshouse Hospital in Kilmarnock, Ayrshire, to Sweden for specialised treatment after suffering rare complications.

Department of Health analysis suggested two-thirds of the deaths they had full data on were among people with severe health conditions, such as cancer.

Chief Medical Officer Sir Liam Donaldson also said there may be "a little bit of possible good news".

While new cases have increased from 55,000 to an estimated 100,000, the number of people in hospital has not risen accordingly.

Some 840 patients are in hospital - 63 of which are in critical care - compared to 652 last week.

Sir Liam added: "There is no evidence to suggest it is becoming more virulent. Most people with no underlying conditions will get over the flu perfectly well."

The number of people contacting GPs over flu has also doubled with 155 consultations per 100,000.

But the figure is well short of the peak during the 1968-70 pandemic when more than 1,200 people per 100,000 were asking for help.

Checklist

Sir Liam also said the pressure on the health service - every area in England is now experiencing "exceptional" demand - should be relieved by the flu service which has now gone live.

There were reports of it crashing initially, although it seemed to be working well later on.

To contact it, people in England can call 0800 1 513 100 or log on to www.direct.gov.uk/pandemicflu

The flu service is not covering the rest of the UK as Wales, Northern Ireland and Scotland have all experienced much less demand.

They will be able to plug into it if they need to, although experts have said Scotland appears to be over the worst of this phase with 1,200 new cases reported in the past week.

FLU HOTSPOTS
Tower Hamlets - 792 GP flu consultations per 100,000
Islington - 488
Greenwich - 441
Leicester - 440
Telford and Wrekin - 430
Lewisham - 424
Hackney - 419
Barking and Dagenham - 415
South Tyneside - 413
Redbridge - 410

It is the first time the public has been given access to prescription drugs through phone or internet channels.

BBC medical correspondent Fergus Walsh said: "The government is hoping that people won't abuse the system but there isn't any danger of the UK running out of [anti-viral drug] Tamiflu.

"We've got enough for half the population and more on the way - more than virtually any country in the world."

People with underlying health problems, pregnant women and parents concerned for children aged under one are still being advised to contact a GP.

A checklist is being used by call centre staff and the website to decide whether people have swine flu.

If the virus is suspected, people will be given a voucher number to give to a flu friend to take to a collection point to pick up anti-flu drugs.

Dr Richard Vautrey, of the British Medical Association, which has helped to design the checklist being used by the flu service, said: "What we have to remember is that this is a unique situation.

"Some GP practices are receiving hundreds of calls a day and we have to prioritise so we can see the most seriously ill.

"So as long as the call handlers get the correct training we can be confident in this service."

Shadow health secretary Andrew Lansley said: "With pressure on the NHS continuing to escalate, there is still far too much confusion about access to diagnosis and treatment for swine flu."

And Liberal Democrat health spokesman Normal Lamb added the initial problems were worrying.

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