British flu fatality is first outside Americas
June 16, 2009
LONDON (AFP) –- British authorities have confirmed the first swine flu death outside the Americas, marking a new stage in the spread of the virus which has infected almost 30,000 people worldwide.Three days after the World Health Organization declared a global pandemic, the government in Scotland said an infected patient who also had “underlying health conditions” had died in hospital.
It is the first death in a patient with the A(H1N1) virus outside the Americas, where 145 people had died as of Friday, according to the WHO.
Canadian health authorities have since confirmed their sixth swine flu death, a woman in her fifties who had also suffered from “a chronic disease.”
The Scottish patient was among 10 people hospitalized with the virus, out of 498 confirmed cases across Scotland and 1,261 in total across Britain.
“With regret, we can confirm that one of the patients who had been in hospital, and had been confirmed as suffering from the H1N1 virus, has died today,” the Scottish government said in a short statement.
“The patient had underlying health conditions.”
A spokesman refused to confirm the patient's gender or age although media reports said the patient was a woman.
Scottish Health Secretary Nicola Sturgeon offered her condolences to the patient's family and sought to alleviate public concern.
“Tragic though today's death is, I would like to emphasise that the vast majority of those who have H1N1 are suffering from relatively mild symptoms,” she said, adding: “The risk to the general public remains low.”
England's health ministry said it was monitoring the situation “very closely”.
The WHO raised its global alert to a maximum six on Thursday, saying swine flu had reached pandemic status because of its geographical spread.
The virus, which was first detected in Mexico in April, has so far infected almost 30,000 people in 74 countries, according to the latest WHO figures.
In Australia, the government said Sunday it was ready to ratchet up its swine flu alert as the national tally hit 1,458 cases. It is the worst-hit Asia-Pacific country with the fifth highest number of cases worldwide.
Health Minister Nicola Roxon said the whole country would soon move to the “sustain” phase in line with hotspot state Victoria.
This phase, Australia's second-highest, gives authorities the power to cancel sports events, close schools and restrict travel, although officials say extreme measures such as closing national borders are unlikely.
“As the numbers gradually increase in jurisdictions there will be steps over the coming days to move to a consistent alert level,” Roxon said.
Near the southwestern French city of Toulouse, health authorities confirmed seven cases of swine flu in a group of children from the same school in an outbreak that did not appear to have been brought in from abroad.
“The unique thing about this situation is that these cases are not linked to a trip abroad. The virus is present in our country,” said Anne-Gaelle Baudouin-Clerc, chief of staff to the prefect of the Haute Garonne region.
Meanwhile, Thai Prime Minister Abhisit Vejjajiva urged the country not to panic after health authorities reported 150 confirmed cases of the virus Sunday -- almost 10 times the tally just three days earlier.
“People should not panic. The death ratio for the new flu is probably lower than normal flu,” Abhisit said.