Swine flu victim had no other health issues

London Guardian

Sarah Boseley

The first death from swine flu of an otherwise healthy individual was announced last night by NHS authorities in

At the wishes of the family, no details were given of the patient who died at Basildon and Thurrock University
hospital. But the case will cause widespread concern. Until now, every adult and child who has died has had
serious underlying health problems that made them particularly vulnerable to infections.

But the chief medical officer, Sir Liam Donaldson, has warned that a few apparently healthy people have
succumbed to swine flu and become seriously ill abroad. In one case last month, a healthy 15-year-old teenager
called Matthew Davis from Buffalo in New York state, fell ill with swine flu and died, apparently because of co-
infection with the superbug MRSA, which he may have contracted in the community rather than in hospital.

Speaking last night, Donaldson pointed to the sometimes apparently random behaviour of the infection: "This
death underlines that, although the virus is proving generally mild in most people, it is more severe in some
cases. As with all flu-like viruses, some people are at higher risk than others. Unfortunately, people who are
otherwise healthy could also become seriously ill or, sadly, die."

But the director of public health for NHS south-east Essex, Dr Andrea Atherton, said she wanted to reassure
people that the risk of transmission still remains small.

"It is important to stress that the symptoms of swine flu are, relatively speaking, mild. Unless you have flu-like
symptoms and are being tested for swine flu, there is absolutely no need to stop your normal everyday
activities," she said.

Another expert, Prof Robert Dingwall, director of the Institute for Science and Society at the University of
Nottingham, also struck a reassuring note. "This is not at all unexpected – there have been a few deaths
elsewhere in the world among people with no obvious underlying condition.

"However, it does not really affect the growing body of evidence that the first pandemic of the 21st century is a
relatively mild one and that death rates are likely to be broadly comparable with the annual toll from seasonal
flu. There certainly will be more deaths like this one – but most deaths will still occur among people who have
some serious underlying condition, and are already likely to be under active medical management," he said.

John Oxford, professor of virology at Queen Mary's College of Medicine in London and scientific director of
Retroscreen Virology Ltd, said the death was to be expected and did not give any extra cause for concern:
"We've all been gritting our teeth, waiting for this to happen, and now it has. This doesn't necessarily mean the
virus has mutated. Whether more patients with no underlying health problems die … depends on what the virus
does next."
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