15 July 2009

Swine flu panic rises after death of six-year-old girl

By Daniel Martin
on 14th July 2009

Chloe Buckley

Chloe Buckley: She was not given Tamiflu after her doctor apparently misdiagnosed her illness as tonsillitis
Public fears have increased after yesterday's announcement that a healthy child and a GP with no known underlying problems have died from the virus.

The deaths of Chloe Buckley, six, and Dr Michael Day mean three people with no previous health problems have now died of the illness out of a total of 17 deaths across Britain.

Chloe's parents described her as their 'fun-loving baby girl' today as they spoke of their distress for the first time.

Health Secretary Andy Burnham said it was a 'tragedy' today but insisted people must not worry too much.

'There have been lots of children already having the condition but making a very quick and full recovery. We do have to keep it in perspective,' he said.

Britain was at the 'front of the queue' for the swine flu vaccine and the first should arrive here next month, the minister added.

'We could not be in a better position. So as soon as stocks are made, the very first vaccines will come to this country. We expect to get the first next month.'

Enough vaccine for the whole population has been ordered and half of all doses are expected to arrive by the end of the year.

A list has been drawn up of people who will get the first injections, including health workers and patients with conditions like diabetes and asthma.

Scientists fear a unique strain of the virus has already developed in London due to the sheer number of infections.

This could mutate into an even more virulent version which could prove more dangerous and faster-spreading.

However, experts are currently adamant swine flu is no more contagious than the normal seasonal flu and will prove mild for most who catch it.

chris spencer director of education for hillingdon borough council speaks to the media
Chris Spencer, director of education for Hillingdon Borough Council, speaks to reporters outside St Catherine's Catholic School which Chloe attended

'The vast majority of people will recover quickly by taking paracetamol or ibuprofen, and drinking plenty of fluids,' said Dr Laurence Buckman, chairman of the BMA's GP committee.

'We must remember that every year there are deaths from complications of seasonal flu; this is unfortunately inevitable with any strain of influenza.'

But the reassurances are falling on increasingly deaf ears as the death toll continues to rise.

A NHS Direct source told London's Evening Standard: 'Every day for the last week, more than half of all calls to NHS Direct have been in relation to swine flu and that is a huge increase from the start.

'It is to do with the deaths. When you read something about someone dying, people have more pressing questions. But the number of referrals to GPs have stayed pretty much the same so it shows people are simply more worried rather than ill.'

People are now being urged to use 'other channels' to release some of the pressure on the service, a spokesman added.

Schoolgirl Chloe died within 48 hours of complaining of a sore throat and just a day before her seventh birthday.

She was not given the anti-viral drug Tamiflu but her parents today insisted she had been treated appropriately.

Michael and Jacinta Buckley said in a statement: 'We are obviously very distressed at the loss of our fun-loving baby girl. Nothing can replace her in our lives.'

They added: 'We are satisfied that the medical care Chloe received at all times was appropriate.

It was also announced yesterday that Dr Day, a 64-year-old GP who had been treating swine flu victims, died after contracting the virus.

Both the little girl and the doctor are believed to have been perfectly healthy before succumbing to swine flu.

Dr Michael Day
Dr Michael Day died at the Luton & Dunstable Hospital on Saturday

Further tests are being carried out today to pinpoint an exact cause of death for Chloe and Dr Day.

The six-year-old, from West Drayton, West London, became ill on Wednesday and died on Thursday night.

Dr Day, a GP from Dunstable, Bedfordshire, died on Saturday in the Luton and Dunstable Hospital. He is also understood to have been healthy.

'Doctors have always accepted that there are risks associated with their job,' Dr Buckman said. 'Obviously these are smaller than they used to be with the advent of modern medicine, but they can never be eliminated altogether.

'It is understandable that people will be worried when they hear that a GP has died but we urge them to follow the recommended advice and contact their family doctor, rather than physically going to the surgery if they have symptoms.

'While these individual deaths are tragedies for the families concerned, it is very important that members of the public do not panic.'

Last Friday, the NHS announced the first case of a healthy person to have died of swine flu. All other deaths involved patients with underlying health problems.

The man, from Essex, who has not been named, fought for nine days before losing his battle against the virus.

'Six-year-old Chloe was perfectly healthy'

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