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.”