Page last updated at 11:53 GMT, Monday, 15 June 2009 12:53 UK

Flu risk 'still low' after death

Nicola Sturgeon: "Most sufferers have very mild symptoms"

Health officials have insisted the risk swine flu poses to the public remains low after the virus claimed its first UK victim and its first in Europe.

The Scottish Government confirmed on Sunday a patient with underlying health problems had died after testing positive for the H1N1 virus.

The victim is understood to be 38-year-old Jacqueline Fleming who gave birth prematurely at a hospital in Paisley.

Health experts say her death does not mean the virus is "getting nastier".

Scottish Health Secretary Nicola Sturgeon sent her "heartfelt sympathy" to the patient's family.

But she added that the vast majority of those who had tested positive for swine flu had suffered from "relatively mild symptoms".

She said hospitals were prepared to increase capacity to treat more cases if the need were to arise.

The death is the first outside the Americas, where more than 140 people have died since the pandemic began.

The World Health Organization declared a pandemic last week following a sharp increase in the number of cases in Australia.

It does not point to the virus getting nastier
Professor Hugh Pennington
Aberdeen University

In the UK, the total number of confirmed cases identified stands at 1,320.

'Death expected'

England's chief medical officer Sir Liam Donaldson said swine flu presented a slightly higher risk to those with existing respiratory illness, asthma, cardiovascular disease and to pregnant women, but was also hitting healthy young adults.

He said people needed to remain vigilant and to follow good basic hygiene practices including using and disposing of tissues for coughs and sneezes and regularly washing hands with soap.

Virologist Professor John Oxford said that despite the death, the public should not panic.

"I still think the chances of picking up the virus are remote. It is not going to get any worse during the summer," he said.

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He later told the BBC that although there was expected to be a rise in the number of cases in the autumn, measures were already in place.

"Britain is the most prepared country in the world," he said.

Professor Hugh Pennington, a bacteriologist at Aberdeen University, said the death was sad but was "to be expected".

"It does not point to the virus getting nastier. All the evidence to date suggests the virus is not changing at all.

"This is a flu virus, it is in no way different from an ordinary winter flu virus, so if there are enough cases some people will have to be admitted to hospital and some will die."

Sporadic cases

He added that the existence of underlying health problems meant it was "more likely" a patient would get the serious form of the virus.

Professor Peter Openshaw, a flu expert at Imperial College London, said about one in every three people infected would not even be aware that they had swine flu because they would have no or only very mild symptoms.

"And about 98% of people who get infected will recover fully without any hospital treatment so I think the public needs to be reassured," he said.

In the UK, the government now accepts that what it terms "sustained community transmission" is now taking place.

This is characterised by an increased number of sporadic cases with no identifiable link with other confirmed cases

The government estimates that the UK has enough anti-viral drugs for 50% of the population but has plans to raise that figure to 80%.

Ministers urged people not to alter their normal behaviour and follow hand hygiene guidelines.



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