Wednesday, 30 September 2009

Regional variations

Trying to answer my own questions about the fictional swine flu (see yesterday's entry below) has sent me surfing around the Scottish, Welsh and English/UK official swine flu sites. The Welsh seem to produce the clearest and the one written (ironically) as much as possible in plain English - presumably plain Welsh as well. I find the UK/English one the most confusing - not least as to whether graphs refer to England or the UK as a whole. But the Scottish and the UK/English reports both suffer from very confusing multi-coloured graphs that are hard to read. Indeed on occasion it seems nonsensical to even bother publishing them. Where are my friends at Straight Statistics when you need them!
It's also been interesting to see the regional variations in swine flu - there is the "Tayside effect", highlighted by the Courier and And what about this throwaway remark in the latest Welsh report: "As at 23 September, there were 11 clinically-diagnosed patients in Wales hospitals in connection with swine flu, with three in critical care and no reports of underlying health conditions in any patients". That echoes WHO warnings about the riddle of patients with no underlying health problems.
I shall be back, hopefully tomorrow, with the identity of the members of my swine flu family most at risk from swine flu.

Tuesday, 29 September 2009

Meet the swine flu family

Pictured left - and there's a better version on my Flickr account - is the swine flu family. With the help of my "learn to draw" book and a few 2HB pencils, I've drawn them up for use as a graphic a la the brilliant Hans Rosling (the best use of statistics ever seen). They'll be appearing in various forms on this blog but my first questions are:

* Which one is most likely to get swine flu?

* Which one is most likely to have to go to hospital with swine flu?

* And which (although it is a very rare event) is most likely to die from swine flu?

It's not easy to find the answers in the UK statistics so answers on a postcard ...

Monday, 28 September 2009

Danger ahead Will Robinson

There are dangerous times ahead - for both journalists and scientists. The vaccine will soon be unveiled in the UK with much huffing and puffing about whether it's safe or not. And that means keeping a clear and responsible head on those journalistic shoulders. It also means scientists need to sharpen up their PR skills (not usually top of their skill list). We're going to have a series of articles coming up like this one in The Irish Times. The headline is "Risk from swine flu vaccine 'greater than catching virus'." And the first paragraph says: "The risks associated with catching the current strain of the H1N1 virus are less than those connected with being given a new vaccine which has had limited clinical trials, according to an international commentator on swine flu". What follows is a report on a talk given Dr Robert Verker of the Alliance for Natural Health to the Rude Health Show in Dublin. Rude Health is the trade show organsied by the Irish Association of Health Stores. It's certainly a valid article but I'm not sure if it's responsible. I'd like some more facts before scaring readers off swine flu vaccine. For instance, my first question is "How does he know the risks associated with catching the virus are less than those connected with the vaccine? And is that to everyone? Is it the same for full-of-health me as it is for my pregnant wife or my asthmatic six-month-old niece? And while I wouldn't say we should glibly accept all the government tells us, I'd like to have seen The Irish Times go to the health authorities for their view on Dr Verkerk's claim. The European Medicines Agency (which licenses such vaccines) has this to say: "The EMEA’s decision to approve the two vaccines came after detailed study of the vaccines’ quality and safety, including information on trials in more than 6,000 people. Further trials in adults and children are continuing and more results will become available from October/November 2009.As with all medicines, rare bad reactions may only come to light once the vaccines are used in large numbers of people." Journalists can't decide who is right in an argument like this but they can and should present the facts for readers to make up their own mind.

Sunday, 27 September 2009

Coming soon...

I want to try to post every day but family commitments have kept me away from the computer today as I drove for a couple of hours with the in-laws - and father-in-law was coughing and sneezing all the way! Being in an enclosed space for two hours with someone with flu seems to me the best way to catch horrible infections! But it did get me thinking about which members of a typical family are most at risk from swine flu. I've dug out my 2B pencil and started to draw the Swine Flu family with who is most likely to catch it, who is most likely to die from it and who is most likely to escape it! You get the idea. So see you tomorrow.

Saturday, 26 September 2009

The virus formerly known as swine flu

My thanks to fellow blogger Paging Dr Gupta for drawing my attention to the United States Department of Agriculture's attempt to stop the media and public calling the H1N1 virus 'swine flu'. Their argument is quite sound: "By continuing to mislabel the 2009 pandemic H1N1 influenza virus that is affecting human populations around the world, the media is causing undue and undeserved harm to America's agriculture industry, especially to pork producers." But let's be honest. What are the chance of anyone starting to call it "the 2009 pandemic H1N1 influenza virus". And how do you fit that on a front page headline or on a billboard. Other members of flublogia have pointed out that 'chicken pox' and even "Spanish" swine flu were also unfairly named but good luck to anyone who is going to try to dicate to the world a naming convention for diseases. It's the same with spelling and grammar. You won't find barbeque (instead of barbecue) or BBQ in the dictionary but that doesn't stop everyone spelling it like that. Dictionaries follow public opinion, not the other way round. The US Dept of Agriculture needs to rethink its strategy.

Friday, 25 September 2009

Global death toll tops 4,000

It's proving difficult for the UK media to decide if the second wave has actually started. So I'll demonstrate my leadership skills and say: It has. There's probably no scientific definition of when a second wave starts (except in hindsight) so most journalists seemed to be struggling with trying to get somone in authority to say it had definitely started. I don't know why they were so nervous - a quick look at any graph of swine flu activity in the UK would show what those same experts had happily said all along - there will be a second wave and it will start when the kids go back to school. Certainly any news journalist stating as matter of fact that the second wave was underway was not going to be challenged by anyone that mattered. So, with the second wave underway... This week's HPA figures show it's not as bad as we once feared. More kids are getting swine flu (or rather suspected swine flu) and are then getting better. People continue to be 'hospitalised' (God, I hate that word!) and very sadly a small number die. Three more have died in the last week bringing the UK total to 82. Globally death figures have risen by 12 per cent taking the toll to just over 4,000 (4,144). China has started vaccinations and it's likely UK vaccinations will begin any day now. Here's hoping for a quiet winter.

Thursday, 24 September 2009

Theory consigned to World of the Damned

Any hope conspiracy theorists had of having their 'swine flu was man-made' idea taken seriously has just dropped off the edge of the planet. Colonel Muammar Gaddafi's comic address to the UN included his suggestion that the pandemic was man-made - but that was just one of his many ridiculous assertions during his 90-minute ramble. The problem for the conspiracy theorists is that, as Charles Fort realised, of the many ways to censor information, laugher is about the most effective. If you have not ready Charles Fort's tome, The Book of The Damned (published 1919) then you must. At a time when sciene thought it knew it all, he tore our self-satisfied view of the world apart by listing falls of frogs, UFOs, vanishings and a myriad of other phenomena (he would have loved the red sandstorm currently over Australia) which science had chosen to ignore (ie had damned). And the best method of all was to get the media or scientific community to just laugh at the data. Clown Gaddafi would be the best person in the world to lead this procession of the damned.

Wednesday, 23 September 2009

Volunteers needed

The Whitehaven News front page splash this week will be a plea for volunteers from the care community. Four hundred volunteers are being sought to ensure vital lifelines to the area's older people, who face being stranded as health workers are affected by the increase in cases. Mary Bradley, chief executive of Age Concern Northwest Cumbria tells me: "We are looking for an army of volunteers who we can rely on to help in an emegency, people who can use their day-to-day skills such as shopping, cooking, cleaning, driving or simply popping in for a chat to make the difference to people who are isolated, lonely and in need." If you can help, phone 01946 66669.

Tuesday, 22 September 2009


I'm grateful to one of my readers for alerting me to two Lancashire deaths missing from my swine flu death list. One of them - Godfrey Armstrong - is particularly sad as he was perfectly healthy and yet died so quickly. The article in the Lancashire Evening Post makes for sad reading and shows that, as rare as they are, healthy swine flu deaths are something we need to discuss. The comments at the end of the article talk about whether the press is right to highlight his death or whether the 'hushing-up system' is best. Of course, I would say it's absolutely right for the press to flag this up. If it wasn't for some good journalism by the LEP and others, the death of Mr Armstrong and other healthy people would not have been mentioned. The health authorities have been very keen to keep all details of swine flu deaths secret but only open discussion about all deaths will raise questions such as 'Should people with no underlying health problems take Tamiflu'.

Monday, 21 September 2009

Swine flu as a work of art

I said from the outset of this blog that I wanted to look at how artists 'saw' swine flu. It may seem slightly politically incorrect to use something as potentially fatal as swine flu for inspiration but artists have always used major events in our society in that way. But hats off to artist Luke Jerram who has shown swine flu in a whole new light with his art of the virus as a glass sculpture. Most photos you see used in newspapers are coloured in to make them look a bit more dramatic but Luke has shown that in its true transparent state it is equally captivating. His exhibition, Virology, opens at The Smithfield Gallery in London today and runs until October 3. My thanks to Luke for permission to use the picture (above).

Sunday, 20 September 2009

Question Time

I have secured an in-depth interview with Prof John Ashton, director of public health for NHS Cumbria. I shall be meeting him on October 13th to discuss all things swine flu. I have plenty of questions to ask him of course but if any readers of this blog want to fire a question at him, email it to me and I'll see what I can do. Don't forget Prof Ashton has his own blog with our sister paper, The News and Star.

Saturday, 19 September 2009

Black Death v Swine Flu

"The ‘hushing-up’ system is in sanitary matters about as dangerous as anything can well be” - The Lancet, 1870.

I've moaned on many an occasion about the lack of any helpful details on swine flu deaths. The website Straight Statistics shares my exasperation and points out: "When a British soldier dies in Afghanistan, we know within days the sex, age and region of residence of the fatality, together with the immediate cause of death. How different it is for swine flu."

Actually, there's a more stark example than the parallel with soldiers dying in Afghanistan: I can find out more details about people who died during a visit the Black Death to Cumbria in 1598 than I can about swine flu in 2009. For the Black Death I can tell you how many died, their names, where they lived, the precise date of their death, sex, occupation, partner's name, social class and whether they were buried in the churchyard or out on the Fells. No ages are given but it would be easy to work these out by checking with the baptismal records. In contrast the information given to the public about swine flu deaths in modern Britain in 2009 is: the number of deaths and... er, well that's it really.

The latest entrant for my "2009 Hushing Up Award" is the Department of Health in Northern Ireland. You may recall great confusion in the last few days as to whether a baby in the province died of swine flu or not. This wasn't helped by the Department of Health claiming it died of a heart condition not related to swine flu and yet the baby's death seemingly been added to the swine flu death tally in that week's figures released by the Health Protection Agency. The Department of Health refused to release the sex or age of the baby. For goodness sake why not! One can fully appreciate the family wanting their details kept private but to say, for example, a baby boy of six months has died is hardly likely to intrude on their grief. I can't even tell you with any certainty on what date the baby died but it was probably September 15th, 2009 The medieval peasants scribbling on parchment 400 years ago did, it seem, a better job of recording data than 21st century man.

Friday, 18 September 2009

Swine flu - the second wave begins

IT'S BACK! say a number of today's paper with suitable melodrama. Swine flu has, as predicted, started to return with swine flu activity increasing. There has been an increase in cases in England (up from 3,000 to 5,000) for the first time since the end of July. In Scotland, figures have more than doubled to 6,000. And just to make things even more scary, there are a couple of possible cases of people becoming resistant to Tamiflu. There were only three more deaths in the past week (bringing the total to 78) including Northern Ireland's second death. This is presumably the baby who died from swine flu despite some reports refuting that as being linked to the death. With all this gloom, the good news is that the vaccine will soon be ready ;-)

Thursday, 17 September 2009

One-fifth of swine flu deaths 'healthy'

Last night's Panorama didn't reveal many new facts but it did confirm what I had been told earlier in the day by the Health Protection Agency - that the majority (four-fifths) of swine flu victims have those so-called Underlying Health Problems. That leaves one-fifth who are perfectly healthy. Indeed, in the case of the Northern Ireland soldier who died - incredibly healthy. It's a worrying figure which recalls the ghost of the Spanish flu of 1918 which seemed to "like a good fight" (in the words of the recent docudrama on TV). There was a chilling moment in the Panorama episode when the doctor in charge of Glenfield Hospital (which specialises in the treatment of severely ill flu victims) that he had not had any person through his doors yet who had had underlying health problems. Panorama touched on what these UHPs might be: asthma, diabetes - pregnancy was also pointed at. Though I'm not sure how many women (or even doctors) would classify pregnancy as a 'health problem'. At the end of the day we have to bear in mind that, despite the sadness of anyone dying from swine flu, numbers in the UK are still small - 75 to date.

Wednesday, 16 September 2009

Panorama special

UK readers should watch out for the BBC Panorama special on swine flu tonight (9pm) - and that will probably also mean there's a 'news item' on swine flu at 6pm as they promote the documentary programme. It's apparently themed on being a "survivor's guide" so miss it at your peril.

Tuesday, 15 September 2009

A message from Flublogia

As I write this news is breaking of a baby dying from swine flu in Northern Ireland. That will be very sad if true. Northern Ireland has only had one death so far (and a Northern Ireland soldier who died while visiting England). Children seem to be particularly susceptible to swine flu but parents should bear in mind that it is at the moment comparatively mild and deaths are very rare. The average age of swine flu deaths in the UK is 37, according to the Health Protection Agency.

I discovered yesterday that I and this blog belong to 'flublogia' - a wonderful new word used to describe the online swine flu community. I can't help but think there should, however, be a better name for the cyber flu world. How about Sneezeville or just Germ-any. Anyone else like to suggest a name?

Swine flu has returned to this part of the real world (Cumbria in the UK) with eight pupils at a Carlilse School being tested positive for the swine flu virus. The school is, however, not closing for business and reports that most pupils are recovering quite quickly. Aaah, a breath of common sense in the world of Flublogia.

Monday, 14 September 2009

Graph of weekly swine flu death toll in UK

EACH week the Health Protection Agency releases figures on swine flu activity in the UK, including mortality figures. I've drawn up a graph (above) showing the number of deaths each week. NB: There is some ambiguity in the earliest figures as to whether they were cumulative and if they covered the UK or England. As you'll see the fatality figures are still running about five a week despite the drop in swine flu activity generally over the last few weeks. I can't promise to update this graph every week but I'll republish it every now and again. In the meantime the HPA website has the latest reports/figures and those deaths made public are detailed on this site's unofficial list. Oh, and in plain text:

Swine flu deaths recorded by the HPA (cumulative)

May 27 2009: no deaths recorded
June 3 2009: no deaths recorded
June 10: 2009: no deaths recorded
June 17 2009: one death
June 24, 2009: one death (as of 24 June)
July 1 2009: Three deaths reported (across UK?)
July 9 2009: 14 deaths across UK
July 16 2009: 28 deaths in the UK (26 in England, 2 in Scotland)
July 23 2009: 30 deaths (26 in England, four in Scotland)
July 30 2009: 31 deaths (27 in England, four in Scotland)
August 6 2009: 40 deaths (36 in England, four in Scotland)
August 13, 2009: 49 deaths (44 in England, five in Scotland)
August 20, 2009: 59 deaths (54 in England, five in Scotland)
August 27 2009: 65 deaths (57 in England, six in Scotland, one NI, one Wales)
September 3 2009: 70 deaths (61 in England, seven in Scotland, one NI, one Wales)
September 10, 2009: 75 deaths (66 in England, seven in Scotland, one NI, one Wales)

Sunday, 13 September 2009

A blog from a man with too much time on his hands

Hand on heart, I was going to recommend to you today the H5N1 blog run by Canadian based Crawford Kilian. Crawford is not only more thorough in his cov erage of swine flu but also has a much better looking website! So imagine my horror when I found out that he had chosen today of all days to praise my blog. That would now look like just mutual backslapping (it's not, honest) so instead I'll quote another couple of web postings about me which say:

"Not worth publishing in the print edition in the first place which is presumably why it is relegated to the blog"

and "If I was his editor, I'd be asking why he has so much time on his hands"

There, that's kept this blogger's ego in check!

Saturday, 12 September 2009

Latest swine flu death in UK

It's never going to be good news when I have to update our unoffical swine flu death list. The latest to be publicly announced is a 53-year-old man from Fife, Scotland who, rather surprisingly, health officials have admitted had no underlying health problems. All other cases in Scotland have been said to have had UHPs. Locally, Carlisle's Trinity School seems to be handling its swine flu scare with a cool level-head. An example to all other schools and parents?

Friday, 11 September 2009

UK 'winning the swine flu battle'?

The latest swine flu figures are out and show a continuing decrease in swine flu activity across the UK. In fact, judging by some of today's newspaper reports Britain is "tantalisingly close" to beating swine flu. A very positive headline but I'm not sure it's borne out by the rest of Sir Liam Donaldson's comments at the press conference. Even he admitted at the same press conference that people will die of swine flu in the UK this winter. It's a given. And the idea that Britain (currently the sick man of Europe on the swine flu map) could beat it is nonsensical. Sir Liam's precise quote was: "I think we are tantalisingly close to being able to win the battle against this pandemic" but no journalist seems to have asked the follow-up question "What precisely do you mean 'being able to win the battle'?". That 'winning battle' headline will no doubt come back to haunt Sir Liam. And just in case we get too complacent, the UK recorded another five deaths in the last week bringing the total to 75. The question needs to be asked why the UK has such a disproportionate number of deaths from swine flu compared with other European countries, and why they are still continuing despite a dramatic fall in swine flu activity.

Thursday, 10 September 2009

Right Royal example

The fear of swine flu epidemic is really kicking off - even if the actual epidemic is not yet quite into its stride. In the last few days we've had warnings about kissing people (even on their cheek), holding hands or even just shaking hands. It all sounds very worthy but I'm keen to hear from the scientific community as to just how valid these suggestions really are. If you don't kiss or shake someone's hand but then touch the door handle they touched a few moments before, aren't you just as likely to catch any viruses? And how long does the swine flu virus survive in the open air anyway? I think we should be told. But it does strike me as the wrong decision for the headmaster of Gordonstoun School to put the Queen off visiting just because a pupil had swine flu. The government advice at the moment is that children should still go to schools where swine flu has been reported so the Queen staying away is sending the opposite message. You can hardly blame parents now for saying "Well the Queen stayed away so I'm keeping my child away from swine flu infected schools."

Wednesday, 9 September 2009

Miracle recoveries

How long does it take to recover from swine flu? I ask only because I have been struck down by a mere cold this week but fully expect to be back at work within 48 hours. Of course, everyone's joking that it might be swine flu and it set me wondering how long I could skive off work with a dose of H1N1. Many of you will have noticed the miraculous recovery of four of Haven star players who on Thursday were reported to be suffering from swine flu but by Sunday had recovered enough to play (albeit not very well) in a game of top-flight rugby. We northerners are made of good stuff eh? According to the NHS website it takes about a week before you even start to recover from swine flu so perhaps 'suspected swine flu' might have been a better descripton of our players' health status.

Tuesday, 8 September 2009

The hushing-up system

"The ‘hushing-up’ system is in sanitary matters about as dangerous as anything can well be” - The Lancet, 1870.

The above quote came out of a scandal in Whitehaven in 1870 when the sanitary conditions in the town were so bad that typhoid took hold and a government inspector had to be sent to the town to sort us out. The chairman of the Workhouse had blamed the press as their articles "had a tendency to spread the disease rather than check it". The Lancet quite rightly pointed out the dangers of the 'hushing-up' system of disease control. Accurate facts and information can only aid in the better control of epidemics. Yet 140 years on it seems we have learned nothing.
I suggested yesterday that Newham University Hospital Trust should win the Swine Flu Secrecy Award for 2009 but I'm thinking now it should go to NHS West Midlands. Here's two quotes from The Birmingham Mail when reporters asked for basic details on swine flu deaths in that area:

"NHS West Midlands said another adult with the H1N1 virus has died, but would not disclose the age, sex or location of the death" - Birmingham Mail August 28, 2009

An NHS West Midlands health authority spokeswoman refused to give any further details about the victim, or where they were from. She added: 'We cannot confirm whether swine flu was a contributing factor in the latest case as we are awaiting test results. We cannot also yet say whether this person was healthy or had underlying health conditions'." Birmingham Mail, July 17 2009

The chairman of Whitehaven Workhouse would be proud of them.

Lack of swine flu data is a scandal

My thanks to one Linda Robinson who gave me a link to the website in my quest to try and collate more details of swine flu victims in the UK. I've added the details from that site to my list. I've tried to be very careful but the information is so confused that I can't rule out omissions or duplications. Email me if you have any corrections or additions. It's appalling that the details from official sources are so sparse that I am having to do this. It is very reminiscent of Daniel Defoe's Diary Of A Plague Year (set in 1665) and going round the streets to try and find news of how many people have died! It's difficult to see what this secrecy achieves - except suspicion that the government is hiding the true situation. The public should be given as much information as possible. For instance, most believe the young are worst affected by swine flu but this doesn't seem to be borne out by the ages and genders in my list. It's difficult to pick out the worst offender in this blanket of secrecy but I'm going to have a go anyway: Newham University Hospital Trust. The good work of reporter Susan Smith on the Newham Recorder enabled the paper to discover that someone on their patch had died of swine flu. The Trust grudingly confirmed the fact but the most telling line in Susan's story is "Newham University Hospital NHS Trust will not reveal the gender of the patient." For goodness sake, why not? One can understand the name and address not being given out (although personally I think those details should be given) but what possible reason is there for not saying whether it was a man, woman or what age they were. (One wonders how the public would react if they later found out the adult was worked at a nursery but no parents were told). This nonsense - the lack of data - has got to stop.

Saturday, 5 September 2009

List of swine flu deaths in the UK

It's time to start blowing the lid on the scandal that has become swine flu in the UK. And I don't mean a conspiracy that it's all down to deliberate germ warfare by MI5. I mean the dearth of information about the deaths and the flippant remarks everytime someone dies that they had "underlying health problems" (UHPs). As
others have pointed out, we have almost no data about those who die from swine flu - whether they are men, women, how old they are, and what UHPs if any that they had. So I thought I'd draw up my own statistics from a trawl of the net. Here's the list of UK deaths that have been made public to date. Please email me ( with any corrections or additions.

Known Swine Flu Deaths in the UK

14 June 2009 - First death - Jacqui Fleming, 38/39 died giving birth at Carnwadric, south Glasgow (UHPs*)
15 June 2009 - Jack Fleming, son of Jacqui, dies
29 June 2009 - man, 73, Paisley, Scotland (UHPs) - second Scottish death
30 June 2009 - Sameerah Ahmad, 6, Birmingham (UHPs)
30 June 2009 - Girl, 9 (family asked details to be private), Birmingham
3 July 2009 - Man, 19, South London. Serious UHPs (first to die in London)
5 July 2009 - Abdullah Patel, 42, Dewsbury, Yorks (UHPs - lung and kidney problems
6 July 2009 - Asmaa Hussain, Dewsbury, Yorkshire
9 July 2009 - Chloe Buckley, 6/7, West London (septic shock as a result of tonsilitis)
9 July 2009 - Dr Michael Day, Luton, 64 (UHPs - heart disease, high blood pressure, viral pnuemonia)
10 July 2009 - healthy man, Basildon, Essex
15 July 2009 - woman tourist visiting Inverness, Scotland (significant UHPs)
17 July 2009 - pregnat woman, 39, Whipps Cross, London. Baby in intensive care
17 July 2009 - Sky news reprots Death from swine flu of woman who had just given birth and Baby less than six months old (serious UHPs)
17 July 2009 - Woman, Ruptara Miah, 39, at Leytonstone (just given birth)
21 July 2009 - Girl, 15, Glasgow, Scotland (UHPs) - fourth scottish victim
22 July 2009 - no sex, age given. West Midlands
4 August 2009 - Soldier Lee Porter, Bisley, Surrey, 30 (no UHPs)
8th August 2009 - man, 26, Glasgow (fifth scottish death)
9th August 2009 - Madelynne Butcher, 18, Southampton
14th August 2009 - adult dies in Birmingham (UHPs)
21 August 2009 - woman, 55, Wales
22 August 2009 - woman, Northern Ireland
24 August 2009 - woman, 59, Islay, Argyll, Scotland (UHPs) - sixth scottish death
28th August 2009 - man, 52, Edinburgh; "significant UHPs" - seventh in Scotland
5 September 2009 - Boy, 7, Strood, Kent? - later said not to be swine flu

And with the death toll at 70 at the moment, that means people in the UK are dying from swine flu at the rate of 17 a month.

*UHPs - Underlying Health Problems; a glib phrase trotted out by medical professionals. At the moment they seem to range from viral pneumonia to being pregnant

Friday, 4 September 2009

Er, excuse me. Should we be starting to panic?

Buried under the 'good news' today that the estimated number of swine flu deaths will be 'only' 20,000 is the latest death toll to date from swine flu in the UK. Seventy have died as of September 3, 2009.
But let me put that into some context: 105 have died throughout Europe - 70 of those in the UK. As someone living in the UK, I'm getting just a little worried. What is the UK doing wrong? Are we just correctly diagnosing more swine flu deaths than other European countries or are we so bad at controlling this epidemic that it's killing more Britons?

I did like this headline in The Scottish Sun: "Swine Flu To Affect Less Scots" (Note to the subs on The Scottish Sun: That's FEWER Scots!). Given Scotland has had seven deaths (Wales one death, Northern Ireland one death) I'd be interested in what statisticians think about Scotland being a safe place to live at the moment.

Thursday, 3 September 2009

Bosses taking swine flu swabs from employees

Can someone help me get my head around why some firms are considering taking swabs of their employees who phone in saying they have 'suspected swine flu'? Just what does it achieve?

Bosses are being quoted as saying it will stop people skiving when they are not really sick and, less convincingly, that it will help the employee and his family by letting him know for sure whether he does indeed have swine flu.

OK, so a person phones in sick because they have a high temperature, flu-like symptoms. His GP says "don't come and see me" phone the swine flu helpline. The helpline says to him to stay at home and take Tamiflu and only get in touch again if he gets much worse.

The boss then spends £125 and a staff members' time/petrol etc to drive to the employee's house and take a swab. This is sent for analysis. If it comes back negative then the employee says "Oh well, it's just ordinary flu. I'll stay in bed for a week until it wears off."

If the swab comes back positive, the employee rings the NHS helpline again and says "I've definitely got swine flu". They repeat their previous instruction: take Tamiflu and stay at home until you get better. After a week he's better and goes back to work.

So what on earth is the point of an employer taking swabs? If someone wants to skive off work for a week sick, they just phone in with 'ordinary flu' or 'back ache'.

Wednesday, 2 September 2009

Burying swine flu victims in the catacombs

Someone posted on the comments section below that Exeter council had drawn up a plan to put "all the bodies" from a swine flu epidemic into the catacombs below the city. It sounded so ridiculous I could only assume it was one of the Friend of a Friend stories. But a quick Google, and it turns out to be absolutely true. Here's the authoritative report. It's probably a bit over the top in the 'worst case scenario' stakes but where to store the bodies is a genuine issue if the pandemic is at the top end of the scale. And in cold caves is probably as pragmatic a place as any.

Tuesday, 1 September 2009

Information please

Can anyone else find UK statistics for how many men have died from swine flu compared with how many women have died from swine flu because I'm damned if I can find out!