A 14-year-old boy became the youngest person to die from swine flu in the Republic yesterday as a pregnant woman with the virus fought for her life in another hospital.
The death of the youth, who had an underlying illness, in a Dublin hospital came against the background of a steep rise in infection in children and teenagers.
His death brought to five the number of victims of swine flu here in the past week. Nine victims in total have now lost their lives here to the illness, which has struck 7,000 people a week.
It is understood the pregnant woman -- who is on a ventilator -- is one of an estimated 14 patients in intensive care after contracting swine flu.
Obstetricians yesterday appealed to women over 12 weeks' pregnant to avail of the vaccine, warning that they were particularly vulnerable to the effects of swine flu.
Obstetrician Dr Michael O'Connell, of Dublin's Coombe Hospital, says around 70,000 women are pregnant here annually and up to 30pc of these are in danger of getting swine flu.
One in 10 of these women who contract the virus will have to be hospitalised and risk early labour or severe pneumonia.
He said: "All pregnant women from 14 weeks to six weeks after giving birth should get the vaccine. It also applies to pregnant women up to 14 weeks who also have an at-risk medical condition."
A number of pregnant women have had to be admitted to hospital here since the pandemic began but none of them have died, unlike in Britain.
Pregnant women are vulnerable because their immune system is suppressed and they can have breathing difficulties because of their size, putting them at particular risk later in pregnancy.
Dr O'Connell, who was speaking on behalf of the Institute of Obstetricians and Gynaecologists, said both the vaccines licensed for use here, Pandemrix and Celvapan, were safe to use on pregnant women and would not harm their unborn baby.
"If this was not a potentially serious disease you could have a discussion as to the merits of the vaccine. But this is potentially very serious disease for pregnant women and on that basis the vaccine should be taken once available," he said.
"Pregnant women are worried but worrying unnecessarily. I think they should be a lot more worried about a severe form of this disease," he added.
Women who get the vaccine while pregnant confer six months' immunity on their newborn, which will see them through the worst months of the spread of the disease.