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Flu epidemic more severe than last year as toll hits 15

By Jeremy Laurance

Fifteen patients have died in the UK and more than 100 patients are in |intensive care with suspected swine flu as doctors warned that the disease |is turning out to be more severe than last year.

Intensive care specialists said that the NHS was under greater pressure than 12 months ago. There has been a surge in cases admitted to hospital in the past 10 days and in the north-west of England numbers are |above those at the peak of last year's pandemic.

Three pregnant women were diagnosed with swine flu in Northern Ireland earlier this week.

Five deaths were reported in the north-west of England yesterday, including that of Kay Burdett, a 32-year-old mother-of-two from Liverpool, who had received hospital treatment for asthma.

In the north-east the situation is “as bad as or worse than” at the peak last year, according to public health specialists. Most of those affected are aged 18-35, including pregnant women, the obese and those with chronic health problems.

The numbers of severely ill patients have taken specialists by surprise |because monitoring suggests low |levels of swine flu in the community.

There have been unconfirmed reports of 17 flu deaths in the UK not including Scotland — 15 of which are associated with H1N1 swine flu. Bob Winter, president of the Intensive Care Society, said: “Something different is happening this year. The last 10 days have seen a sudden surge of activity. The numbers in intensive care are increasing across the UK. In the north-west they are more than at the peak of the pandemic.

“We have told the Department of Health that this is emerging as a serious issue. We suggested the groups convened last year for swine flu critical care planning should be reconvened. The disease seems disproportionately severe.”

NHS chief executive Sir David Nicholson said: “There is always more pressure at this time of year. But the NHS is well-prepared.”

A spokesperson for the Health Protection Agency said it was monitoring the situation carefully.

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