North London child dies of swine flu

A CHILD has become the first North London resident to die from swine flu this winter, as fears grow about a resurgence in the illness.

The news comes as it was revealed that only one in five of The Whittington Hospital’s staff are vaccinated against the virus this year – despite it claiming the lives of 12 Britons in the last six weeks .

Hospital chiefs are concerned because the uptake rate is unusually low, representing a 66 per cent drop in the number of health workers immunised in 2009.

By the end of last year, 1,429 or 55 per cent of all staff had been vaccinated against the H1N1 swine flu virus.

But the number has plummeted, with just over 500 this year taking up a combined jab that protects against both swine and seasonal flu.

The Royal Free was unable to provide figures comparing the uptake in swine flu vaccinations among staff this year against last year’s figures.

Whittington’s health bosses are now urging staff to have the vaccination, which is only available to workers at the hospital and is not extended to patients.

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A message in an internal newsletter said: “This year we have very low uptake figures and are struggling to reach our usual vaccination numbers, which is disappointing as staff, patients and family members are still just as vulnerable to complications from the flu.”

The number of people diagnosed with the H1N1 strain is still well below the level recorded last year – which prompted the World Health Organisation to declare a global pandemic. But experts have warned of a sharp rise in swine flu cases over recent weeks, with one categorically stating that the virus is back.

Professor Peter Openshaw, director of respiratory infections at Imperial College, revealed that the hospitals within Imperial Healthcare NHS Trust had seen a surge in H1N1-related illnesses.

“Particularly in the last week, we’ve had a sharp increase in the number of patients with severe lung complications related to swine flu. With the cold weather it’s back and we’re stretched in terms of hospital beds. In the last 10 days we’ve had another 20 severely ill patients in Imperial hospitals. The same has been reported by colleagues around the country.”

Prof Openshaw said it is now a “moral obligation” for NHS workers to be vaccinated. “I find it very hard to understand why people wouldn’t have the vaccine. All health care staff should be vaccinated full-stop. We know when they catch flu they struggle on and infect patients – that’s documented,” he said.

Dr Paul Crook, from the Health Protection Agency in London, also reported an increase. He said: “Over the last few weeks we have seen a rise in the number of cases of seasonal flu, including both H1N1 (2009) and flu B, in the community. We have also received reports of patients with serious illness requiring hospitalisation and outbreaks of flu in schools across the country.”