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Health News

First swine flu death in UK

A female patient in a Scottish hospital has become the first person in the UK to die of swine flu.

The patient, who died yesterday, had underlying health conditions and was one of ten people receiving hospital treatment for the H1N1 virus, the Scottish Government said.

The government has not released any further details of the case, including the person's age, or the nature of her pre-existing health problems. However the name of the hospital has been confirmed as the Royal Alexandra Hospital in Paisley.

The death came as the total number of confirmed swine flu cases in the UK reached 1,261 yesterday after 61 new cases in England were confirmed as H1N1.

There have now been 752 cases confirmed in England, 498 in Scotland, eight in Northern Ireland and three in Wales, according to the Health Protection Agency and the Scottish Government. The UK's first cases of swine flu were confirmed in Scotland on April 27. Scottish Health Secretary Nicola Sturgeon said: "It is a tragedy for those concerned and they have my heartfelt sympathy. Tragic though today's death is, I would like to emphasise that the vast majority of those who have H1N1 are suffering from relatively mild symptoms."

Professor Hugh Pennington, a bacteriologist at Aberdeen University, said the death of a patient from swine flu was "to be expected" given the number of cases. "It does not point to the virus getting nastier. All the evidence to date suggests the virus is not changing at all," he said.

"This is a flu virus, it is in no way different from an ordinary winter flu virus, so if there are enough cases some people will have to be admitted to hospital and some will die."

One death out of more than a thousand cases was "quite unremarkable" and compared favourably to ordinary seasonal flu, he said, adding that the patient's underlying health problems would have been a significant factor. "It makes it more likely that they will get the serious form of the virus in the first place.

"If your lungs are already only working at half capacity when the virus kicks in and takes half of what is left, you will be left teetering on the edge. It raises the odds that a patient will experience serious difficulties. Anti virals damp down the virus but they are not curative, and once symptoms have developed they don't work nearly as well," he added.

The virus develops as pneumonia, attacking cells lining the lungs and preventing the transfer of oxygen.

Yesterday saw the biggest one-day rise in the number of confirmed infections, with 172 patients in England and Scotland confirmed with the H1N1 virus. Of the new cases, 39 appeared in the West Midlands, where 354 people have now been affected by the virus. Scotland had 55 more cases, including 42 people from the Greater Glasgow and Clyde area. Another 486 possible cases in the UK are under investigation. A Department of Health spokesman said: "We are continuing to work to slow the spread of the disease and to put in place arrangements to ensure that the UK is well-placed to deal with this new infection."

On Friday, Andy Burnham, the Health Secretary, encouraged people not to panic after the World Health Organisation (WHO) announced that the world was in the grip of a flu pandemic, the first in more than 40 years.

Mr Burnham said the UK was well-prepared and the WHO announcement did not affect the assessment of how the virus was behaving in the UK. The last flu pandemic in 1968, known as Hong Kong flu, killed an estimated 1 million people worldwide.

Around 30,000 cases of swine flu have so far been detected in more than 70 countries, and at least 145 people have died worldwide.