UK reports its first swine flu death

June 14, 2009 2:37:04 PM PDT
A person with underlying health conditions died of swine flu in Scotland on Sunday - the first reported death from the illness outside the Americas, health officials said. Britain has been harder hit by the virus - known as H1N1- than elsewhere in Europe. Earlier Sunday, Britain had reported another 61 cases of swine flu, bringing the U.K. total to 1,226 cases.

"Tragic though today's death is, I would like to emphasize that the vast majority of those who have H1N1 are suffering from relatively mild symptoms, " Scottish Health Secretary Nicola Sturgeon said. "I would reiterate that the risk to the general public remains low and we can all play our part in slowing the spread of the virus by following simple hygiene procedures."

Now that swine flu has officially been declared to be a pandemic, or global outbreak, health authorities expect to see more cases and deaths worldwide. The World Health Organization said last week that the virus has not become any more lethal, but is now unstoppable.

So far, swine flu appears to be a relatively mild virus, and most people who get it do not need treatment to get better. About half the people who have died from swine flu have had other health conditions including pregnancy, obesity, diabetes, or asthma.

"The patient had underlying health conditions," the government statement announcing the death said, without saying what they were. Scotland's government said the patient was one of 10 people being treated for the influenza at a hospital. The statement did not identify the patient or the hospital.

It was the first death from the H1N1 strain of influenza reported outside the Americas, according to the World Health Organization in Geneva or the European Centers for Disease Control in Stockholm, which both keep tabs on confirmed cases of swine flu around the world.

The latest WHO report, released on Friday, said 74 countries have reported 29,669 cases of swine flu, including 145 deaths. Fatalities had occurred in eight countries in the Americas: Mexico, the United States, Canada, Chile, Colombia, Costa Rica, the Dominican Republic and Guatemala.

Last week, the WHO declared the flu a pandemic. WHO said it expected further cases - and deaths - to occur as the pandemic plays out over the next few years.

Hugh Pennington, a bacteriologist at Aberdeen University, said the underlying conditions are likely to have been a "significant factor" in the death because it raises the odds the patient will have difficulties.

"It makes it more likely that they will get the serious form of the virus in the first place," he said. "If your lungs are already only working at half capacity when the virus kicks in and takes half of what is left, you will be left teetering on the edge."

Pennington said that while the death was unfortunate, it was "quite unremarkable" given the number of reported cases and compared favorably to ordinary seasonal flu.


Associated Press Writers Maria Cheng in London and Frank Jordans in Geneva contributed to this story.


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