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Swine flu "less lethal" than feared

The government's chief medical officer has said the swine flu pandemic is "considerably less lethal" than feared but warned that the low death rate was not an excuse for complacency.

Sir Liam Donaldson said that the 0.026% death rate was "fortunate" after a study published online in the British Medical Journal revealed that only 26 people have died for every 100,000 cases in England up to 8 November this year.

About 1% of the population in England has had swine flu with symptoms, of which 0.026% died, the research added.

His study concluded: "The first influenza pandemic of the 21st century is considerably less lethal than was feared in advance.

"A lower population impact than previous pandemics, however, is not a justification for public health inaction."

Sir Liam wrote that the mortality rate for the virus "compares favourably" with those of 20th-century pandemics, and praised the decision to vaccinate at-risk groups, such as those with asthma, diabetes, heart disease and pregnant women before the pandemic took hold.

Copyright © Press Association 2009

British Medical Journal