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150 being treated for swine flu in Northern Ireland, one man dies - Agriculture Minister quizzed by MLaAs

By Allan Preston

Published 11/02/2016

Agriculture Minister Michelle O'Neill
Agriculture Minister Michelle O'Neill

An increase in the number of swine flu cases has been discussed at Stormont after a man died from the virus in Craigavon Hospital last week.

According to the Public Health Agency, 150 people in Northern Ireland are currently being treated for swine flu.

It is believed that the man who died last Wednesday was from the Lurgan area. It is understood that he was also suffering from other conditions.

In 2009 an outbreak of swine flu, also known as the H1N1 virus, killed nearly 30 people in Northern Ireland.

Most of those who died had other serious illnesses.

Yesterday morning at Stormont, Ulster Unionist MLA Jo-Anne Dobson asked Agriculture Minister Michelle O'Neill if she was aware of the extent of the problem.

"The Agriculture Minister has a role to play in responding to any incidences," Ms Dobson said.

"However, in responding to my question she appeared unaware of the reported incidents.

"She simply said that swine flu is being monitored by her department and she was not aware of any animal health issues.

"If we are to fully understand the situation, we must have an open and honest approach from government. I understand that protection against influenza H1N1 is contained within the seasonal flu vaccine.

"However, I have written to both the Health and Agriculture Ministers to press for greater clarity around the reported incidences which have come about within the last four weeks."

In response, a Department of Agriculture spokesperson said: "Influenza A in animals is a notifiable disease and DARD requires notification as a result of laboratory confirmation. The most recent case of Influenza A in pigs here was in March 2015. There is no current outbreak.

"The finding of swine flu (H1N1) is not unexpected as the virus is circulating within the human population and since 2009 has been one of the strains of flu routinely included in the human seasonal flu vaccine."

Mrs Dobson also urged those most at risk to get the proper medical attention.

"We're in flu season - people need to know what they're dealing with," she said.

"If you're admitted to hospital I think it's important to have clarity. Also for those who are at risk, like my son who is a transplant patient, it's important to get the flu vaccine because it has some protection in it against the H1N1 strain."

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