Swine flu growing faster in Scotland than rest of the UK

THE spread of swine flu has gathered pace across Scotland, with 31 new cases of the H1N1 infection confirmed yesterday, including that of a 23-month-old toddler.

The Scottish Government said the increase – the largest daily jump so far – took the total number of confirmed cases to 119. None of the new infections is travel-related, and 21 are in the NHS Highland area, which covers Dunoon.

In another significant development, two more schools were closed after pupils were confirmed with the virus.

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The toddler was among the new cases in Lothian, but health secretary Nicola Sturgeon reassured parents that symptoms of the virus in young children had been mild.

A further swine flu patient was being treated in the high-dependency unit at the Royal Alexandra Hospital in Paisley yesterday. She was said to be in a stable condition. There were also signs of improvement in some of the other patients who have been treated in intensive care.

The surge in swine flu means Scotland now accounts for more than a quarter of the UK total, which was standing at 459 last night.

England confirmed 23 new cases yesterday, with one new case in Wales.

It is not clear why Scotland has a disproportionately high number of flu cases, or why it has so many patients in hospital – a worrying development not yet seen elsewhere in the UK.

Of the four patients who were in intensive care, the Scottish Government said the condition of a 37-year-old man in Glasgow's Victoria Infirmary had improved and he had been transferred to the high-dependency unit.

At the Royal Alexandra, three patients remained in intensive care. A man aged 45 was still in a critical but stable condition, while a 23-year-old woman, who was confirmed with the virus on Wednesday, was stable. Both are from Paisley.

The remaining patient – a 38-year-old woman from Glasgow – was still in a critical condition.

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It also emerged yesterday that a further confirmed case – a 44-year-old woman – was in the high-dependency unit at the Royal Alexandra. She was said to have had an underlying health condition.

A further 56 possible cases were under investigation in Scotland. The Scottish Government said that a further two primary schools near Dunoon in Argyll's Cowal peninsula – Kirn Primary and Inellan Primary – would close for seven days to slow the spread of the virus.

The school closures are both thought to be linked to a multi-school P7 trip. The 70 pupils and 20 staff who attended the event will all be offered Tamiflu.

Third-year pupils at Paisley Grammar School are also being sent home for seven days, after a pupil was confirmed with the virus. All 230 pupils will be offered Tamiflu.

The majority of confirmed cases, 67, come from the NHS Highland region, with Dunoon at the centre of the cluster.

Leading microbiologist Professor Hugh Pennington said the groupings of cases mirrored that seen in other countries, such as the United States.

"It is just the way you expect a virus to behave – it's not evenly distributed and it's more common in some parts of the country than others," he said.

Ms Sturgeon said: "We have always said that we expected to see an increase in cases in Scotland. But we are still committed to doing all we can to slow the spread of the virus, which is why a further two schools will close today.

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"I'd like to reassure parents that there is no cause for undue concern," Ms Sturgeon said. "We should, however, all remain vigilant and follow good basic hygiene procedures."

Scotland's chief medical officer, Harry Burns, said: "We are continuing to see an increase in the number of cases in Scotland. The virus is very much following the expected pattern."