Saturday, 11 July 2009

One flu over the Swine nest

Good evening dear Reader,

I write this as I am watching Bear Grylls eat frozen squirrel brains in a Siberian forest. Still, if its a choice between that and Kendal Mint cake I know what I'll go for.

Work is vaguely interesting at the moment. We are all going to die from Swine Flu.

Or maybe not. In January of this year the RCGP published its Pandemic Flu guidelines which gave information about what do in the event of a new global flu pandemic. It was based on models from previous flu pandemics last century (that makes me feel old) with mortality rates etc... from Avian Flu. That was assumed to be the Big One. Its nasty, it kills a lot of people. Much to everyones surprise it was actually Swine Flu (H1N1) that swept the planet.

So far its killed a few hundred people and infected many tens of thousands (at least). Although these deaths are tragic, things should be put into perspective. Seasonal Flu (normal flu) kills 12000 per year in the UK. Does it get the same kind of hysterical coverage in the media? Not a chance. Mind you I can't be too tough on the media and the government (for once) as their projections were based on the far more deadly Avian flu.

How's things panning out now? Well I'm sure you are aware that Swine Flu is a lot milder than everyone was expecting. True it has killed people but the majority of these had other significant illness (not sure what exactly as no-one will tell us). One person died today of Swine Flu who was otherwise healthy. I am assuming they died from viral Pneumonia - v.nasty but rare, 40% mortality rate.

We've had a few cases through the doors where I work - despite advice to stay at home. I think currently the Staff are more scared then the patients. The difficulty is the guidance coming out from the PCT is mixed, frequent and far too wordy. I get 2-3 emails per day with 4-5 attachments. Each email supersedes the previous one - usually. Its a fucking mess. The Swine flu packs never turned up - not that they are needed now. Tamiflu guidance seems to change every few days. I'm still unsure if its for people presenting within 48hrs of symptoms, just the high risk groups, or everyone. Not that its any good. Government seems to think its a silver bullet but the evidence behind its use is not brilliant. Shortens the illness by hours, reduced viral load but its not without its side effects - including making all your skin fall off (rare but if everyone uses it we might see a case or two)!

Don't get me started on NHS Direct. Fucking waste of space that is. Masks are pointless too but good for scaring patients. I think a lot of the problems come from the original guidance which was based on Avian flu. Which is nasty and kills a lot of people. Where as Swine flu just makes you feel a bit poorly (usually). The guidance is slowly changing to take account of the fact that its not the End of humanity as we know it.

How you diagnose Swine flu? You guess. Thats right. We've been given a few symptoms that people will have but the trouble is is that the vast majority of viral infections we see in GP-land present with this. Even worse with children. Its only a matter of time before we miss a serious illness (meningitis, cancer, etc...) as we are so focused on believing everyone who is unwell has Swine Flu. And then the Daily Mail will have a field day. Whoop-de-fucking-doo.

Of course come winter the shit will hit the fan when Swine flu grows some balls and becomes the killer that we are all worried about. Oh well, such is life.


  1. It's nuts.. I work in a London GP surgery (I'm an HCA) and we had 18 people with it - or shall I say flu symptoms, today.

    Similar most days the past 2/3 weeks!

  2. That's a quality introduction, though, personally, I'd have to opt for the Kendal mint cake.

    Overall, it's an enlightening, entertaining read and much appreciated. Keep it up!