UK Region is facing a major flu crisis

Medical experts are concerned because the return of the swine flu has coincided with a decline in the number of people taking free vaccinations - down by 15 percent in October.

About a million people in the North-East have the right to vaccination, which protects against swine flu.

Although last year's swine flu pandemic is officially over, H1N1 continues to circulate in the population, along with other flu viruses.

Some of the victims are fighting for their lives in the north-east have existing medical conditions and could have avoided the virus if they had been vaccinated.

Last night, says North-East health officials it was important that all exposed patients received the vaccine as soon as possible.

So far, 14 of the 17 British deaths this flu series has involved the swine flu.

All were under 65 and six were under 18.

Last year's pandemic claimed seven lives in the north-east.

Some experts have called for the reintroduction of swine influenza intensive care planning groups, set up at the height of the pandemic in the last year, to handle the latest crisis.

Dr George Rae, chairman of the British Medical Association (BMA) in the north-east, says: It looks like it could be worse than last year.

It happens again and things can start to get out of control.

He said the flu jab was a hundred percent sure and urged people in high risk groups to contact their GPs.

The BMA said it was deeply concerned that a major flu crisis is brewing.

Dr Lawrence Buckman, chairman of the BMA's GPs Committee, has written to the government urging it to step up public awareness campaign for seasonal influenza vaccination.

Two of the 11 critically ill North-East patients are kept alive by an advanced artificial lung machine known as ECMO (Extra corporeal Membrane Oxygenation).

Newcastle's Freeman's Hospital ECMO unit, which is one of a handful in the country, is normally used to treat children with pulmonary failure.

But because of the increased number of seriously ill patients flu in Newcastle Hospitals Trust has adapted to the pediatric unit so that it can treat adults.

ECMO treatment involves artificial oxygenation of the blood for an average of 17 days to allow the patient's lungs to recover from illness.

A spokesman for the trust said they were treated two adult influenza patients in the unit.

Earlier this week, said Dr Richard Firmin, director of Britain's most important ECMO center in Leicester, they were very busy, busier than last year with 15 ECMO beds open in the UK, compared with 12 on top of last year's pandemic.

Health Protection Agency figures show that so far this season, has 17 patients required ECMO therapy.

All of them were adults under 65 and four were pregnant.

Dr Tricia Cresswell, deputy medical director of NHS North East, said: We are very concerned about the number of people being admitted to hospital with serious complications from influenza, which is critically ill.

Reasonable, levels of influenza in the general community still quite low and most people recover well.

But, for those with chronic health problems and for pregnant women, there is a risk of more serious disease.

We encourage everyone in danger - particularly pregnant women and young people with long-term health conditions - to get vaccinated against flu as a matter of urgency - you need not be complacent.

People who qualify for free NHS seasonal flu vaccine includes all frontline health care workers, pregnant women who were not previously protected against swine flu, all over 65 and anyone with a serious chronic disease or condition.

Posted on Sunday, December 19, 2010. Filed under , . You can follow any responses to this entry through the RSS 2.0

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