By Yvette Martyn

90 deaths have so far been attributed to swine flu in the United Kingdom; although only 44 have been reported in the media. But is the death toll correct?


90 deaths have so far been attributed to swine flu but is the death toll correct?

Only five deaths have been described as otherwise healthy individuals prior to the contraction of the virus. 25 of the victims have been described as possessing underlying health problems and 14 gave no information.

On reading an article detailing the post-mortem results of a swine flu “healthy” victim, Louise Jones, a 24 year old from Greater Manchester, I found it interesting that a blood clot in her lung had been described.

Known in medical terminology as a pulmonary embolism, the clot travels to the lung from a site elsewhere in the body but usually originates in the legs, a condition known as DVT.

Reading the coverage of the young woman’s untimely death I noticed many articles attributed her death solely to the H1N1 virus, the subtype of influenza known as swine flu, other reports more encouragingly gave details of her diagnosis with swine flu and pneumonia whilst describing her ultimate death from a pulmonary embolism.

Looking into her death I am limited in the information obtainable, the media states that the post-mortem attributes her death to a pulmonary embolism caused by the contraction of the H1N1 virus, but it does bring into question other risk factors Miss Jones may have possessed.

The virus almost undoubtedly caused her to require bed rest, a immobile position which places a person at a higher risk of developing a pulmonary embolism. Other risk factors which may be relevant to Miss Jones include a family history of clots, smoking, the oral contraceptive pill and long journeys (articles do mention a recent return from Crete for the 24 year old but it is not stated if she was in a cramped position for a lengthy passage of time).

She is described as, “fit and healthy” by her father, but it is important to note that in childhood she was diagnosed with asthma, a condition which does increase the risk of developing complications of the H1N1 virus.

Death from the H1N1 virus can occur in a number of ways, as a direct result of the condition due to pneumonia or acute respiratory distress syndrome; both of these conditions involve the virus spreading from the upper airway into the lungs.

Then there are deaths which are as a consequence of swine flu but not directly relating to the virus such as dehydration, electrolyte disturbances, sepsis and secondary bacterial infection. People with underlying health conditions also run the risk of their conditions becoming worse and leading to their death, so a seemingly healthy person whose condition is controlled on medication such as diabetes may see demise in their health due to the contraction of the virus.

When death certificates are issued the cause of death may be noted as a person’s chronic condition, and not as a result of swine flu, which ultimately caused their death.

The death of such a young person is always a tragedy and the complicated measures required in attributing a death to a certain cause can lead to misleading information. That does not mean Miss Jones did not die as a consequence of swine flu.

In fact it does not mean that any victims of swine flu have had their deaths attributed to the wrong cause, on the contrary: swine flu deaths are likely to be underreported due to the complicated nature in detailing a cause of death.

Image: Yaron Jeroen van Oostrom /