SWINDON should brace itself for further deaths from swine flu and a rise in the number of cases.

That was the message yesterday from town’s director of public health, who said deaths were inevitable with a flu-like virus, but stressed that the majority of people would only suffer mild symptoms.

Dr Jenny Harries, joint director of public health for both Swindon Council and Swindon Primary Care Trust, said: “It is a sad fact that we expect there will be some deaths, but we don’t expect that to be the major picture.

“The vast majority of people will have a mild influenza.”

Dr Harries said that the town could expect swine flu numbers to peak in around five weeks’ time, between the end of August and the beginning of September.

“We’re predicting it will get worse,” she added.

Measures have been put in place to cope with any rise in swine flu cases, including daily flu response team meetings between all the relevant bodies, including representatives of the council and the Great Western Hospital.

However, according to Dr Harries, services are not over-stretched and there are no problems with drug availability.

“The impact of swine flu on the population is fairly limited at the moment,” she said.

“The cases there are in Swindon are mild and there is no obvious pressure on the services.”

Compared to large cities such as London and Birmingham, Dr Harries said, the virus had come to Swindon much later and most of the cases were mild.

She explained that the predicted peak time for Swindon would coincide with the Government’s distribution of vaccines. The Advertiser was unable to obtain numbers of swine flu hospital admissions or of prescriptions given for anti-viral drug Tamiflu.

Dr Harries said the figures were still being collated and would not at the moment reflect the true situation, but she revealed that calls to GPs had risen to about 25 per cent above the normal level.

However, it is believed that pressure on GPs should be lessened by the end of next week with the introduction of a national helpline number.

Official guidance is still that if people have a temperature of more than 38 degrees and two flu-like symptoms such as aches, pains, shivers, coughs and sneezes they should seek medical advice.

Residents can either call the swine flu hotline on 0800 151 3513, NHS Direct on 0845 46 47, check their symptoms online or call their GP.

Dr Harries said that suspected sufferers should stay away from GP surgeries in order to prevent the spread of infection, self-medicate where possible and have a ‘flu buddy’ bring prescriptions and supplies She added that people with underlying health problems, particularly affecting lung capacity, were more at risk of serious outcomes and should contact their GP if they developed symptoms.

“Clearly people will be concerned undoubtedly, but there are always a number of deaths linked with other flu viruses,” said Dr Harries.

“It’s just that they’re not reported in the same way because this is a new disease and people are concerned about it.

“From the information we have it is still a mild disease.

“We will expect deaths in the future because that’s what a flu virus would bring.”

THE Great Western Hospital (GWH) in Swindon is preparing for staff shortages due to swine flu.

A 51-year-old woman, from Malmesbury, who had been diagnosed with the virus, died on Wednesday at the hospital.

Sue Rowley, director of nursing and midwifery at the GWH, said the hospital was monitoring staff and patients for the H1N1 virus. She said: “There will come a time when it will be likely that we will have a high number of staff that are not at work.

“I think every organisation is planning that when swine flu peaks – whether it is a school, business or hospital – there will be a percentage of staff sick with flu.

“We are monitoring staff and patients – every day we are accessing the situation. It may be that we have to move staff from one area to another or use agency staff.”

Mrs Rowley offered her sympathy to the grieving Wiltshire family who have lost their loved one on Wednesday.

She said: “Of course we are very saddened for the family. We are offering our condolences.”

Mrs Rowley would not disclose levels of virus cases among staff or patients. She said: “We are accessing all patients and if somebody shows symptoms in A&E or elsewhere, we follow procedures.”

A worst case scenario could see 65,000 people dying from swine flu in the UK, according to the Department of Health.

Mrs Rowley said the hospital has been planning for a flu outbreak for some time and is well prepared.

“I don’t want everyone in Swindon and Wiltshire panicking,” she said.

“There were predictions there would be a flu outbreak – we have been planning this for two years.

“Every year we have flu and people die with it – they are often elderly people with other health problems. The difference with this flu is that it is not just the elderly who are affected - you will get deaths of a younger age. The Wiltshire lady who sadly passed away was just in her 50s.”

She urges anyone with symptoms, which include a sudden fever and cough, to stay at home and seek advice but not to visit the hospital.

“Many people who get the flu will have mild symptoms and may not even know they have it,” she said. “But if everybody goes to the GP surgery it will spread more. If people have been in touch with someone displaying swine flu symptoms, they should not worry unless they experience symptoms themselves.”

She is keen to let patients know it is business as usual at the hospital and emphasises frequent hand washing as a precaution. If you suspect you have swine flu, stay at home, check symptoms online at www.nhs.uk.uk or call the information line on 0800 1 513513.

Alternatively you can telephone your GP surgery for more advice.