Tribute as lorry driver with swine flu dies

GovernmenT health chiefs last night said the number of flu cases expected in the next week would be "difficult to call" as it emerged that a 44-year-old lorry driver from Yorkshire had died after catching the virus.

Dean Brown, of East Herringthorpe, Rotherham, was expected home from hospital this week after apparently recovering from the H1N1 swine flu virus, which is one of three strains of the condition sweeping the country.

But his family yesterday revealed that he had died on Wednesday morning at Rotherham District General Hospital, where another patient, who has not been identified, also died from flu earlier in the week.

Mr Brown's partner, Sandra Kelsall, 43, said he was a "wonderful character with a great sense of humour" and added: "Just being with him made me happy. I've known him all my life and loved him to bits."

The news of Mr Brown's death came as doctors' surgeries which have run out of flu vaccine were told they would be able to order vital supplies over the internet.

Recent figures showed the number of deaths from flu since the start of October was up to 50.

Professor David Salisbury, director of immunisation at the Department of Health, said: "We have now got online ordering so that GPs will be able, from Monday, to simply order online from us and we will get deliveries very quickly, of large doses, large stocks of vaccine to them."

Prof Salisbury said that, although the number of people reported to have the flu virus appears to be settling, last week was not a "full reporting week", so doctors were only running their surgeries for three out of five working days.

He said: "We're having to make some assumptions about where this may be going. I think it's really difficult to call.

"It could flatten, but we could also see the numbers begin to edge up again next week."

Of the 50 deaths, 45 died with swine flu and five with another strain, flu type B. The third identified variant of the virus, influenza AH3N2, has not been blamed for any deaths.

The most recent figures reveal the number of people presenting to their GP with flu or flu-like illness has dropped in England, although this is largely affected by surgeries and schools being closed over Christmas.

Some hospitals have been told to cancel operations to make way for the most seriously ill flu patients and senior medics across Yorkshire have asked people who have flu not to go to hospitals unless they are seriously ill.

Professor Walid Al-Wali, Rotherham Hospital's medical director, said: "We continue to urge anyone visiting patients not to if you feel at all unwell as you increase the risk of passing any infections to already sick and vulnerable people."

Dr Jeremy Wight, Director of Public Health at NHS Sheffield, said: "Emergency services are extremely busy at this time of year. Turning up at hospitals with infectious illnesses such as flu puts additional pressure on the NHS and means staff cannot look after the people with urgent medical conditions who really need them."