Swine flu cases start to rise again

The number of suspected swine flu cases in the region has risen in the past two weeks but health bosses said this does not necessarily mean the start of a second wave of the virus.

The number of suspected swine flu cases in the region has risen in the past two weeks but health bosses said this does not necessarily mean the start of a second wave of the virus.

New figures released by NHS East of England show that the number of unique reference numbers - which people are given when they contact the pandemic flu service - has increased slightly, along with the number of anti-viral drugs handed out.

Across the East of England in the past week 3,704 reference numbers were given out and 2,303 anti-virals collected. This is compared to 3009 reference numbers issued a fortnight ago and 1,789 anti-viral drugs collected.

There are currently 10 people in hospitals in the region in connection to swine flu but none of these are in critical care.

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Health bosses predicted the rise this month as children - dubbed the 'super spreaders' - returned to school and said there was still no need for anyone to panic.

Dr Linda Sheridan, director of flu resilience for NHS East of England, said: 'There has been a slight increase in the numbers of antivirals distributed this week.

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'This is not a large increase and does not necessarily mean the beginning of a second wave of the swine flu virus. However, we still expect to see a rise in the number of cases in the autumn and we are continuing to monitor the situation very closely.'

She said the NHS in the region was continuing to make preparations for a second wave of flu in the autumn and health professionals used the 'quieter' school holiday period to ensure all plans were in place for a predicted second outbreak of the virus.

This week the strategic health authority held a regional resilience exercise which all NHS organisations in the region took part in to test the plans to see how well they would cope with an increase in demand.

Ms Sheridan said: 'This exercise was incredibly useful and showed that overall, we are very well prepared.'

In Norfolk this week 389 unique reference numbers were given out, compared to 281 two weeks ago and in Suffolk there were 305 numbers issued, a rise from 264 two weeks ago.

Dr John Battersby, director of public health for NHS Norfolk, said that numbers had 'not yet shown a significant increase' within the county.

However, he said that NHS Norfolk was not being complacent about a possible second wave of the virus.

He said: 'As it is recognised that children tend to be more affected by this virus, and as they tend to be in prolonged close contact within classrooms, there is a possibility that with the return to school, cases of swine flu may escalate.

'This also coincides with our entering into the damper, colder weather conditions more favourable to the emergence of viruses.

'Therefore, we would be expecting to see a more significant escalation somewhere towards mid to the end of October. However, none of this is a given as it is extremely difficult to predict the behaviours of viruses. It is not an exact science.

'We would reiterate that, in the majority of cases, swine flu remains a mild viral infection.'

Anyone who thinks they may have swine flu is urged to contact the National Pandemic Flu Service on 08001 513 100 or go to www.direct.gov.uk/pandemicflu to be assessed.

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