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One in five children have already had swine flu, says HPA

By Lilian Anekwe

Nearly one in every three children in some parts of the UK - and between 15% and 20% across the country - have already been infected with swine flu, according to the Health Protection Agency.

GPs have been handed the huge logistical task of vaccinating all children aged between six months and five years against swine flu, but data drawn from virological sampling suggests a significant proportion may already have been infected.

Researchers at the Health Protection Agency have estimated that between 15% and 20% of children in England were infected during the first wave of the swine flu pandemic, with the figure rising as high as 30% in hotspot areas.

Many more could have had swine flu, but not have known it or have been recorded, as their symptoms were so mild they were not made to feel ‘meaningfully unwell' and would not have sought medical attention from either their GP or the National Pandemic Flu Service.

Professor Maria Zambon, director of the HPA's centre for infections, said only 8% of children who were infected with H1N1 were recognised as clinically ill.

She added: ‘15-20% of children under 15 in the UK were infected during the first wave. This was as high as 30% in hotspots. But up to half would not have had any symptoms at all.'

The estimates, made on the basis of seroepidemiology studies, suggest the second wave may not be as large or as severe as first feared.

But officials denied the UK has already seen the worst of the swine flu pandemic, and said it would be ‘foolish' to rule out a resurgence of the H1N1 swine flu virus, or a re-emergence of other strains of seasonal flu in the new year.

‘In some ways we have not had the pandemic we planned for. We have been lobbed a soft ball. But there are many positives to draw. We have a vaccine programme that has been rolled out in a coordinated manner and we should be thankful for that.'

Justin McCracken, chief executive of the HPA said: ‘It's important to remember the predictions made by the Government were planning assumptions, and represented a worst case scenario only.'

Up to 30% of children have already had swine flu according to seroepidemiology

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