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Row over number of swine flu cases

Flu surveillance group says there are 20,000 new cases a week in France - four times higher than the official figure

SWINE flu is growing in France at a rate of 20,000 new cases each week, according to unofficial figures that have not been endorsed by the French government.

The Groupes Régionaux d’Observation de la Grippe (Grog) said the disease outbreak reached a peak at the end of August, when 23,000 new cases were recorded in one week.

The organisation has been monitoring the spread of flu in France every year since 1984. Its director Jean-Marie Bonnet said: “We are convinced that our figures are close to reality, allowing for a 20% margin of error.”

The organisation’s sums are based on a sample of 5,000 GPs and pediatricians who are asked to keep a tally of how many people come to them with swine flu symptoms. This figure is then multiplied to give a nationwide amount.

The figure is still much lower than the 500,000 cases a week of seasonal flu recorded during a typical winter, but Grog has warned that 20,000 a week could be “a small ripple ahead of a much bigger wave”.

However the Institute of Public Health Surveillance has refused to endorse or confirm the numbers compiled by Grog. It has put the figure at 5,000 a week, but says the number of cases per week is definitely rising.

Since the rentrée last week, six school classes in the south-west and the Ile-de-France have been closed after pupils presented flu symptoms - from an école maternelle in the Seine-et-Marne through to a lycée in Narbonne in the Aude.

The World Health Organisation declared swine flu a global pandemic in mid-June. The disease has so far killed more than 2,800 people worldwide.

However, the death toll in mainland France remains low. A third death was confirmed at the weekend – that of a 64-year-old man in the Vaucluse.

A nationwide voluntary vaccination programme is due to be rolled out next month. A survey by Sud Ouest Dimanche found 55% of people were planning to get the jab.

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