UP to 2,000 antiviral drugs are being administered in the North East every day to people with swine flu symptoms, new figures released last night have shown.
And 55 people are currently being treated for the illness in hospitals throughout the region, none of whom are considered to be in a critical condition.
And yesterday, as the day Government launched its National Flu Pandemic Service, which can be accessed using the telephone and internet, the reality of the swine flu virus was laid bare.
Nationally there have been an estimated 100,000 new cases of swine flu reported in England since last week and 840 patients are in hospital with the virus, 63 of them in intensive care, the Department of Health said.
A special swine flu call centre in Newcastle run by Teleperformance is among those nationally set up to deal with the pandemic.
Government’s chief medical officer, Sir Liam Donaldson, said there were 26 confirmed deaths from the illness in England. Four people are known to have died with the virus in Scotland. Martin Wilson, director of NHS flu resilience in the North East said: "Over the past two weeks we have seen an increased number of people contacting the NHS with symptoms of swine flu in the region.
"To put things in perspective, we’ve been issuing an average of between 1,500 and 2,000 antivirals every day across the region during the past couple of weeks. We currently have 55 people in hospital across the region with swine flu symptoms, none of which are in critical care.
"The introduction of the National Pandemic Flu Service which includes a phone number and dedicated website to enable quick diagnosis of people with swine flu and provide authorisation for antivirals, will help to relieve the increased pressure that GPs have been experiencing.
"People should rest assured that NHS North East has been preparing for this flu pandemic for a very long time and detailed plans are in place across the region. The best thing people can do is make sure they know how to look after themselves if they develop flu like symptoms and then follow the necessary steps before contacting the NHS."
Last night Dr George Rae, from Whitley Bay, chairman of the North Eastern British Medical Association, said he was surprised at the number of antiviral drugs reported to have be prescribed on a daily basis. He said: "As doctors we are making a clinical decision when patients phone up for flu advice. The average adult patient who does not have underlying health problems would not normally be prescribed antiviral medication.
"At present swine flu is viewed as no more serious than seasonal flu and we recommend patients take lots of rest and use standard paracetamol-based cold remedies to reduce their temperature and help relieve symptoms.
"We welcome the National Flu Pandemic Service which will be helpful in our ability to cope with swine flu, but one of the concerns we have as GPs is that with Government’s new service there will be more antivirals prescribed than there really should be.
"We do not want to be in a situation where the average person is being prescribed antivirals when treatment with paracetamol-based cold remedies is the way forward. If antivirals are over-prescribed then we will be in a situation where doctors are having to deal with many of the side affects caused by the medication, such as abdominal pains, nausea, vomiting, and in some cases, hallucinations."
The new National Pandemic Flu Service has been launched to help assess people who think they have swine flu. It is made up of a website and call centres.
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PEOPLE in Tower Hamlets, east London, are still the most likely to consult health services with flu-like symptoms.
The area had 792 consultations per 100,000 population last week, up 4% the previous week.
Here is a list of the 10 areas with the highest consultation rates for flu-like symptoms and the number of consultations per 100,000 people
Residents in South Tyneside come in as the ninth most likely to consult services:
1. Tower Hamlets, east London – 792
2. Islington, north London – 488
3. Greenwich, south east London – 441
4. Leicester – 440
5. Telford & Wrekin – 430
6. Lewisham, south London – 424
7. Hackney, east London – 419
8. Barking & Dagenham, east London – 415
9. South Tyneside – 413
10. Redbridge, north east London – 410.
What to do
IF you have flu like symptoms and are concerned that you may have swine flu:
:: Stay at home and check your symptoms at www.direct.gov.uk/pandemicflu
:: You should only call your GP directly if:
:: You have a serious underlying illness;
:: You are pregnant;
:: You have a sick child under one year old;
:: Your condition suddenly gets much worse;
:: Your condition is still getting worse after seven days (or five days for a child)
Do NOT go to A&E or your GP surgery if you suspect you have swine flu, unless you are advised to do so by a healthcare professional.
A NEW website to diagnose people with swine flu is experiencing "unprecedented demand", the Government said last night.
The system, launched on Wednesday, was receiving 2,600 hits per second – or 9.3 million hits per hour – at around 5pm.
The website crashed within minutes of launching but appeared to be running normally a short time later.
However, the Government admitted it was having to increase capacity due to demand.
It comes after new figures showed there were an estimated 100,000 new cases of swine flu last week – around double the 55,000 in the previous week.
A spokeswoman for the Patients Association said tonight: "While we accept that the new system may have had an extremely high number of people contacting it, it’s disappointing to hear that the service was not able to meet demand."
The Government’s Chief Medical Officer, Sir Liam Donaldson, said he suspected the problems with the website were caused by people logging on out of "curiosity".
He said that it was "rather implausible to think that there might be tens of thousands of people with flu waiting within a one-hour period to all get on and assess their symptoms".
The website service is backed by a telephone helpline staffed by more than 1,500 call centre staff, with the option of recruiting 500 more. The initial 1,500 staff should be capable of answering more than one million calls a week, the Government said.
The number for the National Pandemic Flu Service for England is 0800 151-3100 and the website address is www.direct.gov.uk/pandemicflu