Wednesday, 30 September 2009
Tuesday, 29 September 2009
* 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
Sunday, 27 September 2009
Saturday, 26 September 2009
Friday, 25 September 2009
Thursday, 24 September 2009
Wednesday, 23 September 2009
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
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
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
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
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
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
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
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
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
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
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
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
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
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 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.
My thanks to one Linda Robinson who gave me a link to the www.flutrackers.com 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
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 (firstname.lastname@example.org) with any corrections or additions.
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
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
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
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
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!