SWINE flu has claimed its first life in the South West, while dozens more people are in hospital battling the killer virus.
Official figures released last night revealed that one patient had died and 72 people were receiving hospital treatment in the region.
Health officials said that although the person who died tested positive for the virus, the cause of death had yet to be determined.
Researchers also warned last night that hospitals across England could face "massive" demand for intensive care beds – especially for children.
South West hospitals are likely to be worst hit, according to the study.
Thousands of people across the region have flocked to their GPs reporting flu-type symptoms.
According to the statistics for the week to Thursday, an estimated 1,420 people in Devon had been to their doctors and in Cornwall 515.
In Plymouth, the figure stood at 461, in Torbay 160 and in Somerset an estimated 1,200.
Earlier this week, the Government confirmed that 30 people had now died in the UK after contracting the virus. Officials have also reported that the number of swine flu cases across the country has doubled in a week to 100,000 with most of the new cases among children under 14,
According to the World Health Organisation (WHO) the flu is spreading faster than any previous flu pandemic. The organisation said that 160 countries were now affected by swine flu, and around 800 people had died worldwide.
Two billion people could eventually suffer from the virus, according to WHO.
However, Dr Peter Rudge, a Plymouth GP who chairs the Professional Executive Committee for NHS Plymouth, said there had been a "slow growth" over the last few weeks in the numbers of patients with symptoms associated with flu.
"The majority of people are experiencing mild symptoms and are recovering or have recovered well," he said.
"Indeed across the South West, the Health Protection Agency testing indicates that only around five people in every 100 of those reporting symptoms of flu have the swine flu virus.
"Here in Plymouth, we have sufficient stock of antiviral medication to meet the needs of both adults and children in the city. Children over one year of age and adults are prescribed the antiviral drug in the form of capsules while for children under the age of one year, a solution is available."
Earlier this month, the Western Morning News reported that extra pressure could be placed on the region's hospitals, which were considering plans to postpone minor operations to clear wards for an expected surge in swine flu cases.
Now researchers say the pandemic could overwhelm intensive care units, with demand outstripping supply by 130 per cent in some areas.
Hospitals in the South West, South East, East of England and East Midlands are likely to be worst hit, while paediatric facilities are likely to become "quickly exhausted".
The research was carried out by University of Cambridge, the Intensive Care Society and St George's Healthcare NHS Trust in London.
The group warned that English hospitals might be unable to cope with the number of people affected. London would fare the best and should have enough intensive care beds and ventilators.
But demand for beds could be 120 per cent above supply in the South West and 130 per cent above supply in the South East.
In the East Midlands and East of England, demand could also be 120 per cent above supply. Across the whole of England, demand for beds could be 60 per cent above the number available.
The Government insisted that it could cancel non-emergency operations to increase the number of beds available, but according to the research team, even this would not meet demand.
It stated: "Only 10 per cent of critical care beds in England are in specialist paediatric units, but best estimates suggest that 30 per cent of patients requiring critical care will be children. Paediatric intensive care facilities are likely to be quickly exhausted and suggest older children should be managed in adult critical care units to allow resource optimisation."
Dr Ari Ercole, from the University of Cambridge, who worked on the study, said hospitals would face "massive excess demand even if the pandemic lasted an optimistic 12 weeks".
Professor David Menon, one of the authors from the University of Cambridge, said the figures used in the research could fall on the conservative side.
He also said that between 10 per cent and 50 per cent of patients in intensive care with swine flu were suffering renal failure and required kidney support.
"If it's 10 per cent, then we should be able to cope reasonably well, but if it's 50 per cent, then it would be a big task," he said. "We don't have the equipment to deliver that level of support."