Swine Flu Trending Again

The UK media has been full of swine flu (H1N1) again this week, it’s been trending, to borrow Twitter terminology, what with reports on the tragic deaths of a young girl and a family doctor, advice on virulence and research from Imperial College London that suggests we need better research into the disease. Widespread anecdotal evidence of the spread of H1N1 abounds too.

I should also point out that since coming back from WCSJ09 I’ve had a rather nasty cough, a bit of a sore throat and have felt quite lethargic…but that’s more likely to do with all the mixing in smoky Westminster pub outdoor areas and the talking loudly to be heard over speakers at social events (apologies Natasha, Ed).

Anyway, back to the swine flu. The number of people contacting their doctor because they think they have swine flu has jumped almost 50% to 40,000 a week, according to a BBC report. The actual number of diagnosed cases has risen sixfold in the last week in some parts of the UK, The Guardian said. The Royal College of General Practitioners has criticised the government’s overall handling of H1N1.

The case of the GP who died this week is intriguing from the semantic point of view. According to various outlets, no inquest will be held into the death of 64-year-old Dr Day, who died on Saturday in the Luton and Dunstable Hospital of “natural causes”.

That last phrase covers an awful lot of issues with a nice shiny gloss, it’s the official stance on a whole range of causes of death used on death certificates. But, it doesn’t actually tell is what Dr Day died of and police have criticised the media for reporting his death as a swine flu death. But, of course, it was swine flu that killed him, even if it induced cardiac arrest or some kind of toxic overload. In the absence of the infection would he have otherwise died of “natural causes”? The phrase “natural causes”, is apparently legalese and we should be avoiding it like…well, the plague…for the sake of epidemiology and long-term public records in the face of an emergent virus.

As to the cause of death of an apparently healthy six-year old girl, the post mortem is underway…

Meanwhile, despite declarations to the contrary, it seems that a swine flu vaccine is still months away, according to The Guardian, and is likely to not be ready for the so-called second wave predicted for the autumn.

Several weeks ago, a GP friend told me that word on the street was that one in three people would be infected in that second wave, that ratio was confirmed by BBC news coverage today; some sources say ultimately half of us will eventually be infected. Although the Telegraph reports that according to chief medical officer, Liam Donaldson, just one in eight workers will be forced to stay home because of H1N1.

The BBC’s report was made almost in the same breath as they reported the Imperial College research that says it’s almost impossible to tell who has and who hasn’t been infected and so impossible to determine a true mortality rate value for H1N1 (something I discussed here and elsewhere when information about the disease first emerged).

Now, if one in three are likely to be infected and the mortality rate is a conservative 2%…then that will be approximately half a million UK deaths. The mortality rate may be lower, but the second wave could be more virulent and some researchers, as I’ve reported previously, suggest that 6% might die, that’s three times as many deaths. Official guesstimates are saying 65,000, but they admit that the figure is essentially plucked from the air.

One other point of semantics that is rather irritating and could have been avoided with a simple word switch is regarding the usage of “pandemic”. The word has a strict definition in medical circles, referring simply to how far a disease has spread into the world population.

However, many media talk about “pandemic” as if it were synonymous with lethality or virulence and use it to differentiate between the H1N1 flu virus and so-called “seasonal” influenza, which incidentally kills half a million people each year. If only the WHO had chosen the term “emergent” influenza, then I think many of the misconceptions regarding their announcements on pandemic flu would have been avoided…too late now, of course.

11 thoughts on “Swine Flu Trending Again”

  1. Hopefully not David.

    That observation was based on a long chat with a Jihad supporter and from what I can understand is that advance technology will be used to further this cause. Another professor that is an expert on crusades told me that todays crusades are just like the Cristian crusades of previous centuries and the only difference is the technology available.

    Its mere extrapolation from my side and I must stress that there are no factual or scientific evidence or any mention of the H1N1 spread being coupled to terrorism other than the usual conspiracy theories that abound

    Still, the WHO is on high alert for the next 2 years as they see this time period as the critical period for things to settle down.

    In the end I think its going to be up to individuals becoming more clued up on the issues at hand and taking action.

    Science is back on the map again!

  2. Andre, some good points. Although I suspect you’re not quite on the mark with point #4. That said, certainly the authorities will not be revealing all information to us plebs, that goes without saying, but I doubt there is deliberate dissemination of the virus on any relevant scale.

  3. Great article summarizing all the pertinent issues.

    Some issues that everybody seems to have forgotten:

    1. Africa is just staring their surge of H1N1 infections and could send the mortality rate into the millions due to millions of people with underlying other illnesses, particularly HIV/Aids. The 2010 Influenza season South could be devastating following the season in the North

    2. Two world events, the World Cup Soccer and the Olympics next year could be problematic, especially for Africa if they go ahead.

    3. The H5N1 and H9N1 virus strains have been picked up in Asia, not just in animal hosts but also in humans. Re-assortment of H1N1 with either of these two will produce a more lethal virus. The H5N1 virus has been particularly active in Egypt for as yet unknown reasons and was the focus of the WHO before the breakout. H5N1 has a mortality rate at the moment of 60%

    4. The vast amounts of money spent by the UK, USA, UN, WHO, Vaccine companies and others in difficult economic times suggests to me that there are more to this outbreak than we know. It would seem as if there is some vital information being withheld at this point in time as to what the situation could/already has gravitated to and deliberate active spread of the virus and perhaps mutated forms cannot be ruled out. Carrying a lethal virus into a country is a lot easier than carry a bomb. From history I have learnt that public information often lags far behind reality and increased terrorist activities around the world will surely use this very easy method to their advantage.

    5. This strain seems to be an all season strain and when it settles down to the normal Influenza stage, the world will have a new type of Influenza, non seasonal. This ,in itself can cause a lot of future problems, especially economically.

    As usual, us ordinary citizen’s fate is in the hands of those that truly rule our destiny’s. I hope this does turn out to be only a storm in a teacup.

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