Swine flu rises in Ireland, hitting children hard

Written by Ashley Robinson, CNN

The latest news from Ireland regarding the devastating H1N1, or “swine flu,” is unsettling. After the biggest outbreak in the country’s history in 2009, Ciaran McLoughlin, the Public Health Minister, says in the Irish Independent that current flu outbreaks are continuing to rise and, as a result, hospitals are seeing a higher number of children attending.

“The large number of virus-related admissions is contributing to a spike in admissions for children. There were nearly 400 last week,” he said.

Dr. Catherine King, Director of Emergency Medicine at Roscommon General Hospital, says hospitals are “helping people who are now expected to have a longer illness period due to the severity of the virus.”

Before the seasonal rise in a normally seasonal illness, there was plenty of activity with patients preoccupied with the virus and its causes, she said.

The primary issue for adults was the severity of their illness compared to where it was historically less severe, she explains. “In previous flu seasons adults who recovered from the virus were much less affected in terms of gastro-intestinal illness, and that’s what we’re seeing in many adults who are increasingly seeing that.”

Dr. Ove Hoegh-Guldberg, a global health expert at the University of Queensland in Australia, says that while it is natural for diseases to present a challenge to society, new respiratory viruses have a very hard time surviving in humans.

“We’ve had all these experts on the ground, and their advice is to treat an H1N1 case as another asthma or influenza case,” says Hoegh-Guldberg. “The danger is when people start looking at it as something specific, and try to take extra precautions against it, and the virus and its symptoms begin to get confused.”

His advice? Pay attention to what health professionals are saying. “Listen to the health professionals and try to do what they tell you. If you already have to do treatment for your illness, it really doesn’t make sense to pay additional expenses, such as taking antibiotics, and just think that they’re going to make a difference to something else.”

The death toll in Ireland has continued to increase. The most recent count was 248, and today, Oct. 16, the Republic of Ireland’s Statistician General said that the number of fatalities has reached 344.

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) recorded that 884 children died of swine flu in the United States last year, but Ireland’s death toll (along with other European and North American countries) may be higher.

While the H1N1 virus has not yet surfaced in the US, Larry Esposito, the Executive Director of the Virginia Department of Health, said in a statement that while swine flu season has yet to hit, the virus and other respiratory diseases tend to peak in January and February.

In Finland, where a rash of reports have surfaced including a series of flu-related deaths in children, the Health Service Executive spokesman Janne-Ann Halsman said in a statement: “Hospitals’ diagnostic and treatment capacity were fully utilized over the past week and due to the extreme volume of presentations, bed and resource utilization was unprecedented.”

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