Swine flu set to hit one in eight British workers
Nine per cent of the workforce will be sick by the end of August, say the latest official forecasts, and up to 12 per cent in September, when the peak of the first wave of the swine flu pandemic in the UK is expected.
Coupled with the large number of staff taking annual summer holidays, that could present considerable difficulties for employers who have already cut staff in the downturn.
The latest projections, due to be announced by Sir Liam Donaldson, the chief medical officer, suggest that 30 per cent of the population is likely to be infected with flu during this first wave of the pandemic, ahead of an expected second wave near the end of the year.
The data also suggest that between 0.1 per cent and 0.35 per cent of those infected will die from the flu. That could mean up to 350 deaths a day but the wide variation in the estimates shows the difficulty of collecting reliable figures at this relatively early stage in the pandemic.
The figures are slightly below forecasts released this week by Imperial College in London, and still reflect a relatively mild effect compared with previous flu pandemics.
However, epidemiologists have been concerned that those most affected are children and working-age adults, and although many of those who have died have had underlying health problems such as diabetes or asthma, up to a third appear healthy.
So far, just 17 deaths in the UK have been confirmed to have been caused by the H1N1 virus, although the Health Protection Agency is poised to publish more detailed statistics on infections calculated by a new method since it abandoned systematic testing of the virus this month.
The World Health Organisation said this week that yields from experimental batches of a vaccine to protect against H1N1 had proved disappointing, and European regulators are undecided about how many weeks they should take to study the safety of vaccines in volunteers before approving their widespread use.
But ministers have been told that there will be enough vaccine doses available by the end of this year to cover all those judged to be priority groups, including those with underlying health conditions.