The human faces of the swine flu toll

A piece in the Sunday Star Times looking at those families who have lost loved ones to the H1N1 virus.

An excerpt: (read in full here)

“There is a lot about swine flu that puzzles experts. It is highly contagious and once the Ministry of Health stopped trying to contain it around mid-June, it quickly spread throughout the country, becoming the predominant flu strain, making up 80 percent of cases. Yet it is not highly pathogenic, or disease-causing, lacking the genetic markers that made the 1918 Spanish flu and bird flu, H5N1, so lethal.

“That said, record numbers of people reported to their GP with flu symptoms, peaking at more than 1109 consultations in one week in July, which is three times more than usual. Intensive care units (ICUs) came close to overflowing, almost reaching the national capacity of 200. At the height of the pandemic in July, St John ambulance experienced its highest ever volume of 111 calls, almost 22,000, with up to double the usual number of calls coming in some days.

“Confusingly, the virus proved deadly in a small number of cases where the victim was healthy.

“It’s quite a different beast, we need to study the virus more,” says Dr Sue Huang, the head of the National Influenza Centre. “Perhaps there is some unknown genetic marker… which is associated with the highly transmissible nature of the virus, and why it can cause fatal outcomes in risk groups.”