Situation in the United Kingdom – December 23, 2010

The number of people infected with flu is rapidly increasing in the United Kingdom. This is not surprising at this time of year. However, what is surprising is that the number of severe cases and deaths seem to be occurring at a greater rate with respect to the number of cases than last year. This suggests that the virus currently circulating in the UK may be more virulent than previous variants.

From the Daily Mail, December 24, 2010 [hat-tip, Pixie]

Intensive care units across Britain are almost full as the NHS faces one of the worst flu outbreaks in a decade.

Some hospitals have only one or two life-support machines left and critically ill patients are being transferred by ambulance to other trusts.

Managers are drawing up emergency plans to transform operating theatres into makeshift intensive care departments to cope with the soaring demand.

Senior doctors report that they are seeing the highest number of flu cases in more than 20 years and expect the situation to worsen over the coming weeks.

Children’s intensive care units are under particular pressure and some of the largest departments in the country are full.

[snip]

Dr Ian Jenkins, former president of the Paediatric Intensive Care Society, who is based at Bristol Children’s Hospital, said: ‘I’ve never seen this amount of flu in my 20-year career. There are appreciably more cases than last year. We are under pressure.

‘The virus has come back and there are more cases than last year. We are having to move older children into adult ITU units to make room for much younger children.’

One of the key tools to lessen the death rate from pandemic H1N1 virus is ECMO. England does not have enough of them.

From The Independent, December 24, 2010 [hat-tip, Pixie]

The HPA said 19 patients were receiving extra corporeal membrane oxygenation (ECMO) treatment, given to the worst affected victims whose lungs have failed.

This is 60 per cent higher than the maximum number treated on ECMO machines at the peak of last year’s pandemic. England has just 21 ECMO beds available for flu in five hospitals around the country.

Officially, 27 people have died of swine flu this season in the UK. However, public health officials there note that these are only the confirmed cases. Many deaths may be occurring but will not be reported as due to pandemic H1N1 because the patients were not tested. Several graphs were released today by the Health Protection Agency in the UK. Figure 1 from this publication indicates a sudden rise in influenza like illness (ILI). Figure 8 from this publication indicates a sudden rise in deaths in the UK, from all causes. Indeed, the spike in deaths has exceeded the projected “upper limit”. We don’t know whether the sudden spike in deaths is due to a flu virus, yet. But this  is certainly worth watching.

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