Half term helps curb swine flu infections

Half term holidays may have temporarily eased the rise in the number of cases of swine flu, the government’s chief medical officer said yesterday.

Unveiling the latest data showing a decline to an estimated 64,000 new infections this week, compared with 84,000 last week, Sir Liam Donaldson said it could be explained by the school holidays.

The reversal caused some surprise, with the trend in recent weeks suggesting the UK was experiencing an escalating “second wave” of the H1N1 virus in the build-up to winter. “We don’t know whether this is the start of a downturn or not,” Sir Liam said.

Officials said the decline could also reflect fewer cases of children reporting to doctors during the holidays even if they did develop symptoms.

The school summer holidays were seen as helping suppress the first pandemic wave, since the virus spreads most easily among children. Since the start of the autumn term there have been 241 school outbreaks recorded, with the highest number of 92 in Yorkshire and Humberside.

There was also a drop over the past week in hospitalisations in England from 848 to 785. An estimated 670,000 people have been infected to date. Vaccination programmes are now under way, with 6.6m doses sent to doctors and 3m new doses arriving each week.

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