Updated | Swine flu outbreak as influenza season peaks

Swine flu has become a seasonal virus and anybody who took the influenza vaccine would be protected against it • Mater Dei inundated with patients as a result of cold weather

Mater Dei Hospital is trying to cope with seasonal influenza that includes the highly contagious Swine flu
Mater Dei Hospital is trying to cope with seasonal influenza that includes the highly contagious Swine flu

Patients with Swine flu currently being treated at Mater Dei Hospital contracted the virus "from the community" and were admitted to hospital for the management of respiratory complications, the Health Ministry said.

In a statement released on Friday, the ministry played down significance of what has been termed as an outbreak of Swine flu, insisting the H1N1 strain was included in this year's seasonal influenza vaccine.

"Up to now 85,687 persons took up the free influenza vaccine, which is still available for free in all health centres," the ministry said, adding anybody who took the vaccine was protected from the Swine flu virus.

Media reports on Friday indicated that several patients at Mater Dei Hospital were believed to be suffering from the highly contagious Swine flu.

The Times of Malta suggested this morning that as much as 30 patients were being treated for the virus at Mater Dei Hospital, half of which were elderly patients taken there from St Vincent de Paul.

 

The ministry's statement said that the influenza A (H1N1) virus (Swine flu) emerged in 2009.

"At that time, it was more of a threat as it was a new virus and people had not been previously exposed to such a strain. Since then, it has become the predominant circulating strain in many European countries for seasonal influenza. Since herd immunity for H1N1 in the community is now high across Europe, the risk of a pandemic is now very much reduced," the ministry said.

Swine flu is one of the viruses included in this year’s seasonal influenza vaccine as per recommendations made by the World Health Organisation at the start of last year.

According to an influenza update released by WHO on 7 January, the vast majority of influenza viruses tested in laboratories around the world were of type A. Furthermore, WHO said that up to 77% of influenza type A viruses were of the H1N1 sub-type.

The WHO bulletin also showed that the predominant virus strains in Europe were of type A.

“Most of the hospitalised laboratory confirmed influenza infections were associated with A(H1N1)pdm09 virus and were in persons aged 15-64 years,” the WHO review for Europe said.

Read more about Swine flu here.

Mater Dei blames patient increases on cold weather

 

Mater Dei Hospital has been admitting an average of 200 patients per day, leading to increased waiting times at emergency for patients to be allocated a bed, CEO Ivan Falzon has told MaltaToday.

"We are inundated with patients. The sudden drop of temperature has created difficulties for people who suffer from chronic heart and respiratory problems but obviously the influenza has not helped," Falzon said when asked whether the increase in patients was a result of the influenza.

He said Mater Dei was experiencing a winter peak like all other hospitals across Europe. "I apologise for the increased waiting time for patients who visit us at emergency but I also have to thank all our hospital staff for working very hard at a time like this," Falzon said.

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