Victim had no underlying medical problems

A patient in Essex has become the first person in Britain to die from swine flu without having any underlying health problems. The patient, believed to be middle aged, died yesterday morning at Basildon University Hospital and is thought to have been admitted 10 days ago.

There have been 14 other deaths from swine flu in Britain but all of them were patients whose treatment was complicated by existing medical conditions.

Sir Liam Donaldson, the Chief Medical Officer, said after learning of the fatality in Basildon that more such deaths can be expected. He said: "This death underlines that, although the virus is proving generally mild in most people, it is more severe in some cases. As with all flu-like viruses, some people are at higher risk than others. Unfortunately, people who are otherwise healthy could also become seriously ill or, sadly, die."

John Oxford, Professor of Virology at Queen Mary University of London, said the death was in line with the predicted behaviour of the swine flu virus. He said there was no reason for the death to mean there was any additional cause for concern in Basildon or anywhere else. "We've all been gritting our teeth, waiting for this to happen, and now it has," he said. "This doesn't necessarily mean the virus has mutated. Whether more patients with no underlying health problems die of the disease really depends on what the virus does next."

He speculated that the patient, whose identity has not been released at the request of the family, could have died after the virus moved into the lungs which then became infected by a bacterium, causing breathing difficulties and strain on the heart.

Britain's swine flu death toll is the third highest behind Mexico and the United States. In addition to 15 deaths there have been more than 9,700 confirmed cases of the disease in Britain, with London and the West Midlands approaching epidemic proportions.

In announcing the death, the Basildon and Thurrock University Hospitals NHS Foundation Trust extended its "deepest sympathies" to the bereaved family. A spokesman for NHS East of England said: "The patient had no underlying health conditions. The family has asked specifically that no further details be released to protect the confidentiality of their loved one."