Swine flu kills 21 but outbreak unlikely to be as deadly this year

PUBLISHED : Saturday, 12 February, 2011, 12:00am
UPDATED : Saturday, 12 February, 2011, 12:00am

Swine flu has killed at least 21 people this year on the mainland, where it has become the predominant strain of the virus. Still, it is unlikely to have the same impact as in 2009, when more than 600 people died, the Chinese Centre for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) says.

After 18 weeks in which no severe cases of swine flu were reported, the virus came back strongly at the end of last year, with 129 severe cases nationwide between the end of December and Tuesday.

Twenty deaths had been recorded this year, Shu Yuelong, deputy director of the CDC's Institute for Viral Disease Control and Prevention, told Health News, a newspaper run by the Ministry of Health. The deaths occurred in nine provinces and cities, although no detailed breakdown was given.

Another death was reported in Shenzhen on Wednesday, Guangdong's health department said. The patient, a 55-year-old man, fell ill on January 13 and received treatment at Shenzhen Nanshan People's Hospital. Laboratory tests confirmed he was suffering from swine flu.

Guandong's health department said the province had seven other serious cases, including one in critical condition, but the number was lower than at the same time last year.

Shu predicted there would be more acute cases of swine flu and deaths, but said the pandemic would not be as severe as the one in 2009.

He said the percentage of flu-like cases in outpatient and emergency visits and confirmed cases of flu were on the rise, but they were still lower than last year. Vaccinations against swine flu had been effective, he said.

In Beijing, where four deaths had been reported, the municipal CDC says swine flu accounted for more than half of the seasonal flu cases, up from 23 per cent in mid-January, the Beijing Times reported.

The capital had reported 195 confirmed cases of swine flu, but Pang Xinghuo, deputy director of the Beijing CDC, told the newspaper that this was a fraction of the actual number of infections because many people with cold symptoms do not go to see a doctor. He said it was impossible to calculate the death rate from swine flu, but it was 'much lower than last year'.

Pang said the public had no reason to panic because prevention measures for swine flu were the same as for common seasonal flu, and genetic tests had not found any mutations in the swine flu virus. Almost 1.7 million people had been vaccinated and were therefore immune, along with numerous others who had caught the virus and recovered.

More than a quarter of people in Beijing carried antibodies to swine flu, and its was unlikely the capital would see an epidemic, he said.

The mainland reported its first case of swine flu in May 2009 and tallied 147,337 cases with 652 deaths that year. Several countries have recently reported deaths as the flu season peaks, though not on the scale seen when the outbreak began - partly due to vaccination campaigns.