Britain's death toll rises sharply to 29
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Twenty-nine people with swine flu have so far died in Britain, health officials say, signifying a sharp increase in the death toll of 17 earlier this week. Children under 14 and people with underlying medical conditions have been most affected.
AFP - Twenty-nine people with swine flu have so far died in Britain, health officials said Thursday, in a sharp increase in the death toll from 17 earlier this week.
Twenty-six people have died in England and three in Scotland, the Health Protection Agency said, while estimating there were 55,000 new cases last week in Britain, the worst hit country by the pandemic in Europe.
Officials also announced they would unveil a new service in England next week for people who think they are infected, in which they can be diagnosed over the telephone or using a service online and be sent anti-viral drugs.
Health services in many flu hotspots have been struggling under the strain of the outbreak, with one health region in the West Midlands dealing with 2,500 confirmed cases and 200 schools closed.
Young people under 14 are the hardest hit by the flu outbreak here, and officials said that in the worst case scenario up to half of all children could develop the virus during a first major pandemic wave.
However, the majority of cases "continue to be mild" and almost all of the deaths involve people with "underlying medical conditions", they said.
Only one victim has been confirmed as having died of swine flu without having had other health problems.
One new death was confirmed in Scotland -- a female tourist who died in hospital in Inverness on Wednesday. She had "significant underlying medical conditions," according to Scotland's Health Secretary Nicola Surgeon.
Among those suspected to have contracted the A(H1N1) swine flu virus is former British premier Tony Blair's wife Cherie.
She pulled out of a series of engagements after being confirmed as likely suffering from the virus on Tuesday, her spokesman told the BBC.
The chief medical officer for England, Liam Donaldson, has said that a third of the population may catch swine flu this winter, and the virus could be here for up to five years.
Donaldson published new figures Thursday to help the health service manage the virus, but which he stressed presented the worst case scenario.
They suggest that -- if the worst happens -- up to 65,000 people could die, while up to nine percent of the workforce could have flu by the end of August, rising to 12 percent over the winter.
With the global death toll from A(H1N1) now reaching nearly 450, according to World Health Organisation figues, the WHO director of vaccine research Marie-Paul Kieny said Monday that a vaccine should be available as early as September.
Britain has ordered 132 million doses of a flu vaccine, enough for 60 million people.
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