Probe launched into flu fatalities

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Health authorities are tracking all circumstances leading up to the deaths of the 13 swine flu victims in Norway recorded by Thursday morning. They’re investigating whether the swine flu virus circulating in Norway is a different strain than that in other countries, since the death rate among Norwegians is so high. On Thursday afternoon came reports that a 14th person had died.

Two more relatively young Norwegians died from swine flu earlier this week, both at the National Hospital (Rikshospitalet) in Oslo. Wednesday’s victim was a man in his 20s, while a woman in her 30s died the day before.

On Thursday came confirmation of another fatality. A woman in her 60s died from swine flu at the hospital in Hamar. She was from Ringsaker in Hedmark.

That brought the swine flu death toll in Norway up to 14, compared to just two deaths in Sweden (which has a population roughly twice as large as Norway’s) and none in Denmark.

Health officials told Norwegian Broadcasting (NRK) on Thursday that they’re probing the progression of the disease in each of the 13 fatal cases in Norway. Newspaper Aftenposten reported that health authorities also are investigating whether the swine flu virus that led to the deaths may be a different strain, or mutation, than that found in other countries.

They’re bothered by the fact that many more Norwegians seem to be dying from swine flu, and they don’t why. “We know the virus can be unstable, but the freshest data we have has shown it’s the same virus that’s in our neighbouring countries, and internationally,” state health director Bjørn-Inge Larsen told Aftenposten .

Another reason for the higher death rate, Larsen said, may simply be that more Norwegians have fallen ill, “but we can’t explain that either.”

Norwegians, meanwhile, are flocking to health stations to be vaccinated. Initial response to the vaccination program was low, but now lines are long outside most vaccination sites set up around the country.

Those who are pregnant and who have chronic diseases have first priority. The rest of the population is supposed to wait until the high-risk groups have been vaccinated.