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The epidemic is declining as a result of vaccinations

Ministry of Social Affairs and Health
Publication date 24.11.2009 9.08
Press release -

The swine influenza vaccinations have affected the course of the epidemic and relieved the burden of hospitals in Finland. They have ensured the functioning of health care services, protected the most vulnerable part of the population and curbed the spread of the epidemic. Finland is among the first countries in Europe to start vaccinations. So far almost one million doses of vaccine have been administered.

On the basis of information from bed wards and intensive care wards and the number of the confirmed cases of swine influenza the peak of the epidemic has already been reached nationally. In some hospital districts of Southern Finland the peak may however still be to come. In Finland, 12 deaths that can be linked to swine influenza have been reported; eleven of the patients had an underlying disease exposing to complications. 

The specialised medical care system has been able to meet the increased demand for services and intensive care. On average, the social and health care sector seems to manage well the treatment of the pandemic influenza.

Doctors prescribe influenza medicines at their discretion

There is an adequate supply of influenza medicines in Finland. Antiviral drugs (Tamiflu and Relenza) are prescription medicines that can only be purchased at pharmacies.  Physicians prescribe antiviral medicines for the treatment of influenza if they see it necessary. An early antiviral pharmacotherapy is recommended in particular for groups that are at risk of complications.

The need for medication has also been reduced by the vaccination programme started at an early stage. Emergency stockpiles of antiviral medicines are kept in Finland continuously as a part of preparation for possible pandemics. Antiviral medicines were purchased for stock before any information of the pandemic influenza was received, since they can also be used in the context of other possible pandemic influenzas.

Contrary to medicines, the swine influenza vaccines could not be acquired before the start of the pandemic. The specific vaccine production could be started only after the onset of the pandemic. Finland placed an order for the vaccine with the vaccine producer at the end of April, once the first information about the new epidemic had been received from Mexico.  The Ministry of Social Affairs and Health decided on acquiring the vaccine. An opinion of the National Institute for Health and Welfare on the issue had been requested before that.

Mutation is typical of influenza viruses

Norway has reported of somewhat mutated swine influenza strains. According to the WHO and the European Centre for Disease Prevention and Control (ECDC) similar mutations have been detected since spring in various parts of the world. The same mutation of the virus has now been detected in Finland in a patient who contracted the disease in July 2009. Mutation is typical of an influenza virus. The mutations observed in Norway and elsewhere do not affect the most essential properties of the virus: its ability to cause disease is the same as before and the effect of antiviral medicines and vaccines is good.  A possible spread of strains resistant to antiviral medicines from person to person is being explored in Wales and the USA. The National Institute for Health and Welfare continues to follow the situation closely.

This is an English translation of a press release originally issued in Finnish on 24 November.

Further information

Terhi Kilpi, Senior Medical Officer, National Institute for Health and Welfare, tel. 020 610 8678
Petri Ruutu, Professor, National Institute for Health and Welfare, tel. 020 610 8670
Merja Saarinen, Ministerial Counsellor for Health Affairs, Ministry of Social Affairs and Health, tel.  09 160 74030
Tapani Melkas, Director, Ministry of Social Affairs and Health, tel. 09 160 73886
Aino-Inkeri Hansson, Director-General, Ministry of Social Affairs and Health, tel.  09 160 73760
Päivi Sillanaukee, Director-General, Ministry of Social Affairs and Health, tel.  09 160 73313

Related links

Influenza A(H1N1)v virus (swine flu)

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