Ulster swine flu death toll climbs to 17
Two adults with no underlying health problems have died from swine flu in Northern Ireland, it was revealed today.
A total of 17 people were killed by the H1N1 virus during this season, the Public Health Agency confirmed.
Its director of public health Carolyn Harper said the flu was displaying a similar pattern to last year and the rate of increase in confirmed new cases was slowing. The virus was behaving the same in Northern Ireland as the rest of the UK.
This year there have been no deaths of pregnant women and one of a child.
Dr Harper said: "People should also be reassured by the fact that the World Health Organisation has said that there is no evidence that the swine flu virus is changing.
"Unfortunately these deaths are a reminder of the fact that for a small number of people, and still particularly those with underlying medical conditions, swine flu can be a very serious illness. Other people are also affected but their risk is much lower."
This swine flu season 14 people with an underlying condition have died plus two who did not have a pre-existing medical issue. Another death is being investigated to determine if an underlying condition was present.
This compares to 19 deaths last year.
A total of 33 adults and children are critically ill in hospital with swine flu. Around half of all swine flu patients admitted to hospital had an underlying condition.
Fewer children have been affected compared with last year. This year it has mainly struck those aged 15-64. However people with underlying problems remained at much greater risk.
The mother of a three-year-old girl who died from swine flu has called on the Government to make the vaccine available to all children.
Lana Ameen, from Birmingham, did not have any underlying health problems and was not eligible for the jab under current rules.
She became ill on Christmas Eve and died two days later in hospital. Her mother, Gemma Ameen, has said Lana's death could have been avoided.
Ms Harper said those under five had already built up immunity after receiving last year's jab and were less susceptible unless they had an underlying health problem. A committee of experts advises health departments across the UK on who to vaccinate.
Vaccination uptake rates are higher here than in England with 56% of those aged under 65 and at risk accepting the jab. However this compares with 80% last year when there was no pre-existing immunity.
John Compton, chief executive at the Health and Social Care Board, has had to postpone 160 routine operations to make way for swine flu patients.
"The service continues to be busy with flu and seasonal winter pressures continuing to pose a challenge, however these pressures are being effectively managed across Northern Ireland and normal escalation arrangements are in place to cope with any expected demands at this time," he said.