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Swine flu fears grow after man dies in Northern Ireland hospital

MLA urges authorities to be more proactive in reassuring public over virus

By Cate McCurry

Published 10/02/2016

Karen McKevitt
Karen McKevitt

Health officials must reassure the public over what is being done to tackle the swine flu virus following the death of a man in hospital, it has been claimed.

It is thought that the man, from the Lurgan area, died last Wednesday. He was being treated for swine flu, but had other underlying conditions.

News of his death came a day after this newspaper revealed that almost 150 swine flu cases had been reported in Northern Ireland during the last four weeks alone.

In 2009 an outbreak of the potentially deadly virus killed almost 30 people here. The majority of those who died had underlying health issues.

Last week seven people with confirmed influenza were treated in intensive care units in hospitals across Northern Ireland.

The man's death follows that of a child in the Republic.

SDLP MLA Karen McKevitt said that two other people are in critical condition in Craigavon Area Hospital.

She urged senior management across the health and social care trusts to take a more proactive approach in how they publicly deal with the virus.

She said she discussed the issue of swine flu during a meeting with Southern Health Trust officials on Friday, days after the man's death.

"I got quite a vague answer back saying there is flu in every hospital and they were more or less saying it happens every year and they don't have much concerns.

"But then on Monday I got a call to say that a man had died from swine flu in Craigavon Hospital.

"When I spoke to the trust's chief executive Paula Clarke on Monday she said it hadn't been brought to her attention.

"It would concern me that the chief executive didn't know about this, that a man had died in the Southern Trust from swine flu. It concerns me that it wasn't put in front of her."

It has also emerged that there were 41 cases of people with flu symptoms in intensive care units across Northern Ireland last month, with 36 of those diagnosed with swine flu.

Ms McKevitt believes that more needs to be done to prevent another death.

She added: "In 2009 we spent hundreds of thousands of pounds getting the message out there and it worked, people listened and went for the flu jab.

"But why aren't they telling people now to do the same, particularly when someone has died, why are they hiding behind the word flu? Swine flu is not a dirty word.

"They need to be more proactive in how they deal with this swine flu. We need to prevent another person from losing their life."

The Public Health Agency (PHA) stated that the H1N1 virus is covered by the flu vaccine that is offered free to over-65s, pre-school children aged between two and four years old, all primary school-aged children and individuals in "at risk" groups, such as pregnant women and those with underlying health conditions like asthma or heart conditions.

A PHA spokesperson said: "Every year, during the winter period, several strains of seasonal influenza virus circulate in the community. In 2009 a new flu virus emerged called influenza H1N1, which at the time was also known as 'swine flu'.

"Since 2009, influenza H1N1 virus has become one of the common seasonal influenza viruses in circulation in Northern Ireland, the UK and around the world."

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