Tuesday, 21 July 2009

Swine Flu - Is it it really that bad?

I suppose like many people I have been following with some interest the story of swine flu and it's growth to 'pandemic' status. I have to say thought I am a little doubtful that is is as bad as the media seem to be painting it and whether we are not into some knee jerk reactions to the whole thing. Where I work we now have hand protection similar to that available in hospitals and we are supposed to use this at regular intervals to protect us from swine flu and we have had to be 'trained' in how to apply it to our hands. While I applaud the responsible approach of my employer I just wonder if it is really necessary or is it just a way for someone to make money out of the whole thing.
The one thing I have said on a number of occasions, and which seems to have been missed or ignored by much of the media are the statistics relating to normal flu and the number of deaths a year from this. The Daily Telegraph featured an article last week in which it said "A normal flu season will kill between 6,000 and 10,000 people, many of them elderly, although more than 20,000 can die in a bad year." While I realise that any death from swine flu is very sad and would be better not to have happened it would seem that it is not quite the pandemic people would have us believe given the facts on normal flu.


PamBG said...

I rather agree with you on this. I think it's a great news story for the media (perhaps in a slow news season?) and the word 'pandemic' sounds dramatic.

I'm not all that knowledgeable about medical issues, but my impression is that what 'the issue' is with swine flu is that there was no one with natural immunity to the disease before it sprung up, so it's easily contagious. I think that the worry, from a medical point of view, is that the virus will mutate as it comes in contact with other viruses and we have no way of knowing how virulent such a mutation would be.

I get the general impression that people come often fall into two broad categories when it comes to behaviour around contagious diseases: those who don't practice good hygiene at all and those who are hypochondriacs. I'm not sure we can calm down the latter, but it's no bad thing to practice good hygiene. For example, when I go into a nursing home to do communion, I wash my hands when I get there and use gel as well; I've always done that. I'm not a hypochondriac, but it seems like the right thing to do for people who may well have constitutions that are more frail than mine. Why should they have the germs from my car door, steering wheel and anything I've touched on the way there?

Methodist Preacher said...

Ian, I've worked at a hospital during a bad outbreak of seasonal flu. The number dead is only the tip of an iceberg - many more are critically ill, taking up beds for others who are critically ill for other reasons and high dependency beds for those coming out of majore ops. A lot of routine surgery has to be cancelled and I've known areas such as endoscopy suites be used for patients needing respiration at the expense of routine investigations.

Each year the major campaign to immunise vulnerable groups keeps seasonal flu in proportion - thank goodness. Hospitals are now better able to predict when the seasonal flu will be at its most virulent so they push through routine operations before Christmas and keep beds on standby for the New Year. An Autumn of beds being taken up by critically ill swine flu patients would disrupt even this planning - not to mention that hospital staff themselves would go down with the infection and have to take slightly longer off than the rest of us for infection control purposes.

I've spoken to several people who have had swine flu and they have all remarked how unpleasant it has been. Fortunely they have all been young and reasonably fit and recovered but I'm not certain how many elderly and other vulnerable people will react.

I still think we have a long way to go yet on this one. Basic hygiene is a first line defence and it is interesting to see just where the early flu "hotspots" have been.

Having written several flu pandemic business continuity plans I think it is clear that the current outbreak won't (hopefully) be the worse case scenario, nevertheless we still haven't yet had "the surge" - when that happens expect to see major disruptions.

Walsall seems to have been comparitively fortunate, so far in this part of Birmingham many people are going down with it and I live in fear of being the first Methodist blogger to be struck down.

The other thing that we need to bear in mind is that in the US and the UK we have comparitievly robust health care systems and most of us have a good diet and continuing medical care. The real losers will be in poorer countries where diet and health care are patchy. This seems to have been the difference between Mexico and the US.