The National Pandemic Flu Service, set up to offer online and telephone assessments for people worried that they might have swine flu, is to close next week, Gillian Merron, the public health minister, said today.
The number of new swine flu cases has fallen to a point where the service is no longer needed. It will stop offering assessments from February 11.
The service, to assess patients and enable them to get antiviral medicine if needed, was set up in the first wave of the pandemic to ease pressure on GPs and the NHS.
Over the Christmas period, new cases of swine flu in England fell to their lowest level since the early stages of the outbreak.
The Department of Health said today: "Our priority remains to vaccinate those most at risk from swine flu, as people are still in hospital from the virus and sadly some have died.
"This is the first time we have had a vaccine to protect people while a pandemic virus has been circulating, so it has undoubtedly helped us save lives. People who are being vaccinated now may also be protected against swine flu next winter.
"However, given the current welcome reduction in the number of cases, and the need to make sure our response to the pandemic remains proportionate, we have decided to close the National Pandemic Flu Service, including the online and phone self-care service, at 1am on February 11 2010.
"If required we can have the NPFS back up and running in seven days."
If after the service closes you think you have swine flu symptoms, you should stay at home and contact your GP who will be able to assess you and authorise antivirals if you need them. Your GP will also be able to advise you on vaccination.
Swine flu cases
The latest available figures show that:
- In England, the rate of GP consultations for flu like illness was 12.1 per 100,000 population for the week ending January 17 2010.
- There were then 211 patients in hospital with swine flu in England, 62 of whom were in critical care.
- The Health Protection Agency's overall estimate of the number of cases was below 5,000, where it had been for three weeks.
- The total estimated number of front-line health and social care workers vaccinated in England was 387,000.
- The total number of vaccine doses administered to the priority groups in England was 3.7 million. This figure includes 132,000 pregnant women and 214,000 healthy children aged six months to under 5 years.
Commenting on those figures, Sir Liam Donaldson, chief medical officer for England, said:
“Levels of pandemic ‘flu are currently very low virtually concluding the second wave of the infection in this country.
“Although throughout it has not been a severe illness for most people, children and younger adults have developed serious complications, been admitted to hospital and some have died.
“I strongly advise that those eligible for the vaccine who have not yet had it, get the jab and protect themselves."
Vaccination of people in clinical risk groups is well under way, with an estimated 3.7 million doses of vaccine administered by mid-January. NHS hospitals and GPs are now vaccinating patients facing the greatest risk of complications. Patients will be contacted by their GPs if they fall into one of the at-risk categories.
Healthcare staff dealing with the public are also being vaccinated to help keep medical services running smoothly and to prevent them from passing the virus to patients.
Who is a priority for vaccination?
People who are most at risk from swine flu need to be vaccinated first. These groups are, in order of priority:
- People aged between six months and 65 years in the seasonal flu vaccine at-risk groups.
- All pregnant women. The European Medicines Agency has indicated the vaccine can be given to pregnant women regardless of their stage of pregnancy.
- People who live with those whose immune systems are compromised, such as cancer patients or people with HIV/AIDS.
- People aged 65 and over in the seasonal flu vaccine at-risk groups.
- Healthy children aged over six months and under five years old.
Frontline health and social care workers have also been offered the vaccine at the same time as the first clinical at-risk groups. Health and social care workers are both at an increased risk of catching swine flu and of spreading it to other at-risk patients.
What are the seasonal flu vaccine at-risk groups?
These are people with:
- chronic respiratory disease, such as chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD),
- chronic heart disease, such as heart failure,
- chronic kidney disease, such as kidney failure,
- chronic liver disease, such as chronic hepatitis,
- chronic neurological disease, such as Parkinson's disease,
- diabetes requiring insulin or oral hypoglycaemic drugs, and
- immunosuppression (a suppressed immune system), due to disease or treatment.
Who is at greatest risk of serious complications from swine flu?
Some people are more at risk of complications if they catch swine flu, and need to start taking antivirals as soon as it is confirmed that they have the illness. Doctors may advise some high-risk patients to take antivirals before they have symptoms, if someone close to them has swine flu.
It is already known that people are particularly vulnerable if they have:
- chronic (long-term) lung disease,
- chronic heart disease,
- chronic kidney disease,
- chronic liver disease,
- chronic neurological disease (neurological disorders include motor neurone disease, multiple sclerosis and Parkinson's disease),
- immunosuppression (whether caused by disease or treatment), or diabetes mellitus.
Also at risk are:
- patients who have had drug treatment for asthma in the past three years,
- pregnant women,
- people aged 65 and over, and
- children under five.
If you have flu-like symptoms and are concerned that you may have swine flu, the advice is to stay at home and check your symptoms at the National Pandemic Flu Service.
Patients with swine flu typically have a fever or a high temperature (over 38°C / 100.4°F) and two or more of the following symptoms:
- unusual tiredness,
- runny nose,
- sore throat,
- shortness of breath or cough,
- loss of appetite,
- aching muscles,
- diarrhoea or vomiting
Call your GP if:
- you have a serious underlying (existing) illness,
- you're pregnant,
- you have a sick child under one year old,
- your condition suddenly gets much worse, or
- your condition is still getting worse after seven days (five for a child).
For people who do not have internet access, the National Pandemic Flu Service can be accessed by phone on:
Telephone: 0800 1 513 100
Minicom: 0800 1 513 200
For more information on the National Pandemic Flu Service, go to Flu Service: questions and answers.
People in Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland can visitwww.direct.gov.uk/pandemicflu
Advice for pregnant women
Pregnant women are one of the higher risk groups for swine flu, as they are for all influenza viruses. It is therefore important for them to take precautions.
This website provides full and up-to-date advice for pregnant women and parents of young children. The advice has not changed recently and is available at the following links:
Catch it, Bin it, Kill it
The most important way to stop it spreading is to have good respiratory hygiene (i.e. sneezing and coughing into a tissue) and hand hygiene (keeping your hands clean). The videoCatch it, Bin It, Kill It explains the importance of catching your sneeze in a tissue, placing it quickly in a bin and washing your hands and surfaces regularly to kill the virus.