Heart Health Articles

Welsh Assembly Government Written Statement On Swine Influenza, Wales

July 06, 2017

This statement updates Members on the Influenza A (H1N1) swine flu outbreak and the latest developments in Wales and across the UK.

There has been no change in the World Health Organization's pandemic flu alert level - this remains at Phase 5 which reflects widespread human to human transmission. The WHO is constantly reviewing the evidence to make them move to Phase 6 and there may be an announcement within days. A change to Phase 6, which means a global pandemic, is not a statement about the severity of the disease, but of global spread. Even though a pandemic has not been declared, the situation across the world is that over 24,000 cases have been confirmed in 73 countries across all continents.

The latest reports are that there have been 139 deaths worldwide, the vast majority in Mexico but also 27 in the USA. Deaths have also been reported in Canada, Chile, Costa Rica and the Dominican Republic. There are now confirmed cases on every continent with significant increases in confirmed cases in Australia.

Two cases of swine flu have been confirmed in Wales. The first - a 31 year old male from the Caerphilly local authority area - who has made a complete recovery.

The second case confirmed on 3rd June was Dr Eleanor Mair Williams, a GP practising at Skewen Surgery, Neath Port Talbot. The National Public Health Service took the exceptional step of identifying her with her full consent. Dr Williams has been offered antiviral treatment and is recovering at home. Her illness is also related to travel to the USA. The National Public Health Service has identified 21 people who were in close contact with her while she was ill. These include 4 staff, 2 social contacts and 15 visitors to her surgery. All close contacts are well, have been offered antivirals and given advice about what symptoms to look out for. The Skewen Surgery GP practice has been declared safe for patients and remains open for business as usual.

The situation in Wales as at 5pm on 9 June was that 115 people have been under investigation in Wales. 104 cases have been ruled out, leaving 9 still under investigation.

In the UK - again at 5pm on 9 June - there were 666 confirmed cases, an increase of 286 cases from the 380 I reported on in my written statement last week. So far, the disease is generally mild in most people, but is proving severe in a small minority of cases. Remember that seasonal flu can ordinarily lead to hospitalisation and excess deaths.

There is increasing evidence of sporadic, unlinked cases, some of which are resulting in ongoing spread, particularly in Scotland where 3 patients remain critically ill in intensive care. 9 schools in Birmingham have confirmed cases of swine flu and hospitalisations from swine flu have also been reported there.

This particular type of influenza virus is new, people have little or no immunity to it and we know it will spread across the country eventually. In the outbreak at Welford School in Birmingham, in the outbreak amongst the Dunoon Glasgow Rangers football fans in the West of Scotland and in a number of other cases, we have seen flu in people without links to travel or contacts of cases linked to travel, so it is important that we all remain vigilant.

A number of healthcare workers in Scotland have also contracted the disease, a reminder of the risks to frontline healthcare and social care workers from symptomatic people with swine flu. That is why - as I have said in previous statements - priority in respect of pre-pandemic vaccines and facemasks will be given to protect health and social care and other frontline workers, and those in clinical risk groups.

The UK's approach is still to slow the spread of infection by means of interventions such as managing outbreaks in schools in line with local risk assessments, antiviral prophylaxis and contact tracing. This strategy will not work indefinitely and active consideration is being given to the next phase when that is no longer possible. Throughout this period we will be taking expert scientific advice from the Health Protection Agency and our National Public Health Service. In addition, we are in regular contact with colleagues in Scotland and Northern Ireland.

We also remain prepared for the possibility of a more severe second wave of the virus in the winter months. Scientists will be closely monitoring the effects and severity of swine flu in Southern Hemisphere countries such as Chile and Australia during their winter months.

Last week in plenary, William Graham and Mohammed Ashgar both asked about the possible detrimental effects of community acquired MRSA on patients recovering from swine flu. There is no evidence at present to suggest that community acquired MRSA is a particular problem to patient recovery in the UK or that there is a particular likelihood of it being seen in association with flu should we have a pandemic. The National Public Health Service is monitoring the situation closely and the four countries are stockpiling antibiotics for the treatment of post flu bacterial pneumonias in preparation.

It remains vital that the public are kept informed by the use of accurate and appropriate public health messages. Our advice to the public remains the same, people should follow good respiratory and hand hygiene to help prevent the spread of influenza - always using a tissue to catch sneezes, throwing away used tissues where germs can linger and regularly washing your hands, or cleaning them with a sanitising gel. We continue to advise that anyone who has flu-like symptoms and has travelled to one of the affected areas, or been in contact with a person with swine flu, they should stay at home and phone their GP or NHS Direct Wales.

The excellent collaboration between the four countries remains, as we continue to ensure we are doing everything we can in readiness for the next phase.

I will continue to report weekly to the Assembly on these matters, and will keep Members informed if there are significant changes to the current situation.

Welsh Assembly Government