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Health / Swine flu cases ‘not anything out of the ordinary’

NHS Shetland’s public health consultant says swine flu cases being recorded in the isles earlier this year is “not anything out of the ordinary”.

Dr Susan Laidlaw said there was a peak of confirmed cases at the beginning of February, with lower numbers through to March.

A “very small number” of people required hospital treatment due to swine flu, which caused a global pandemic in 2009.

It comes at a time when NHS Shetland is opening up extra beds at Gilbert Bain Hospital to cope with expected demand from coronavirus.

Comments Laidlaw made about swine flu numbers to BBC Radio Shetland were picked up recently by The Times and The Sun, who raised concerns about the impact it could have on coronavirus preparations.

Laidlaw said however that while this year’s number of swine flu cases is relatively high compared to other areas in Scotland it is not unexpected, with cases less than in 2017/18.

“Flu A H1N1 (commonly known as swine flu) has been circulating seasonally since the pandemic in 2009 and it has been included in the seasonal flu vaccine since then,” she said.

“It is not anything out of the ordinary now to have a number of cases of H1N1 flu. Our flu season is always slightly later than the rest of the country, and we had a peak of confirmed cases at the very beginning of February, then lower numbers through to March.

“Not everyone with flu symptoms requires to be tested, so there will have been far more cases than those reported. We also monitor the rates of GP consultations for influenza-like illness, and these had increased during the first three weeks in February, and were relatively high compared to the rest of Scotland.”

Laidlaw said the pattern is not too different to previous years, and the overall numbers are slightly more than last year, but less than 2017-18, “so it has not been a particularly bad flu season compared to other years”.

Laidlaw highlighted that nearly all positive flu reports so far during 2020 have been confirmed H1N1, “which is a little different to other parts of Scotland and a greater proportion that we usually see”.

“But this would fit with the confirmed flu cases being predominantly people aged under 65, because older people are generally affected by different strain,” she explained.

“Only a very small number of people have needed hospital admission, and these have been very short in general.

“We have also had reports of other respiratory infections that can cause flu like symptoms, again this is not unusual for us at the beginning of the year.”