Saturday, 31 October 2009

Onions - the (latest) miracle cure

Emails from my friend Ruth don't usually make it as far as my Inbox. Despite telling her many times not to, she insists on forwarding those hystically funny emails (you know the ones dripping in viruses) to everyone in her contacts book. She's probably only second to the Nigerian widow looking for someone to handler her millions of dollars on the all-time top spam list. But I'm glad this one made it as it's about swine flu. Judging by the number of "FW:"s it's been round the world three times so sorry if you've seen it before:

"In 1919 when the flu killed 40 million people there was this Doctor that visited the many farmers to see if he could help them combat the flu. Many of the farmers and their family had contracted it and many died.

The doctor came upon this one farmer and to his surprise, everyone was very healthy. When the doctor asked what the farmer was doing that was different the wife replied that she had placed an unpeeled onion in a dish in the rooms of the home, (probably only two rooms back then). The doctor couldn't believe it and asked if he could have one of the onions and place it under the microscope. She gave him one and when he did this, he did find the flu virus in the onion. It obviously absorbed the bacteria, therefore, keeping the family healthy.

Now, I heard this story from my hairdresser in AZ. She said that several years ago many of her employees were coming down with the flu and so were many of her customers. The next year she placed several bowls with onions around in her shop. To her surprise, none of her staff got sick. It must work. (And no, she is not in the onion business.)

The moral of the story is, buy some onions and place them in bowls around your home. If you work at a desk, place one or two in your office or under your desk or even on top somewhere. Try it and see what happens. We did it last year and we never got the flu.

If this helps you and your loved ones from getting sick, all the better. If you do get the flu, it just might be a mild case. Whatever, what have you to lose? Just a few bucks on onions!!!

Now there is a P. S. to this for I sent it to a friend in Oregon who regularly contributes material to me on health issues. She replied with this most interesting experience about onions:

Weldon, thanks for the reminder. I don't know about the farmers story...but, I do know that I contracted pneumonia and needless to say I was very ill....I came across an article that said to cut both ends off an onion put one end on a fork and then place the forked end into an empty jar...placing the jar next to the sick patient at night. It said the onion would be black in the morning from the germs...sure enough it happened just like that...the onion was a mess and I began to feel better.

Another thing I read in the article was that onions and garlic placed around the room saved many from the black plague years ago. They have powerful antibacterial, antiseptic properties."

So that's a bowl of onions, hot milk with red wine and Welsh Whisky so far in the 'miracle cures' folder. Anyone got any more?

Friday, 30 October 2009

Sneeze the day

Some key points from yesterday's HPA report on the swine flu pandemic:
  • The majority of pandemic influenza cases continue to be mild. The cumulative number of deaths reported due to pandemic (H1N1) 2009 in the UK is 135 (97 in England, 23 in Scotland, eight in Northern Ireland and seven in Wales).
  • The weekly influenza/ILI consultation rates increased, and was above the winter baseline thresholds, in England, Scotland and Northern Ireland.
  • There was a total of 1200 new patients hospitalised in England with suspected pandemic influenza in the week from 22-28 October, an increase from 884 in the previous week.
Deaths have lept up from 119 last week and the number of those in hospital has also risen sharply and yet the pandemic in general remains mild. Swine Flu has turned into a strangely malevolent creature unfairly picking to exercise its wrath on a minority.

Thursday, 29 October 2009

Smarties and Liquorice Allsorts

I'm sure there are many urban myths, friend-of-a-friend stories and complete fabrications surrounding swine flu so I'm happy to officially dismiss one now: when you get a flu jab (swine or winter flu) it doesn't cause you to get a mild dose of the very flu it's trying to protect you from. The vaccine is 'dead'. There is, says Dr Nigel Calvert, associate director of public health for Cumbria, no way it can give you flu. But he acknowledged that it is a widespread myth doing the rounds. He was speaking at a press conference in Cumbria to launch the vaccination programme. My favourite quote came when he was trying to explain that as a flu vaccine is "not such a new vaccine". In effect, it's just another winter flu vaccine. Dr Calvert went on: "It's a red Smartie, not a blue one" and added "it's certainly not a Liquorice Allsorts"! Hans Rosling would be proud of him!

Wednesday, 28 October 2009

No spitting, shaking-hands, kissing...

Kissing, shaking-hands, spitting - is there no end to the list of things-not-to-do to avoid swine flu! The spitting rule has been issued because Premiership footballers are, surprisingly, not immune to swine flu. Spitting is a rather disgusting habit - as is the footballers' habit of blowing out the contents of their noses - and is made even worse now we have high definition TV. But spitting is rather low risk for spreading swine flu. Shaking hands is rather more dangerous and last month Sweden disuaded football players from indulging in this practice. Pity the poor referee who has to shake hands with everyone at the end of the game. And then there's the goal celebrations where players jump on each other, hugging and kissing. Fortunately, this is such a rare occurrence at the moment at Carlisle United that the chances of swine flu spreading at Brunton Park are as remote as anything going wrong with the swine flu vaccine. And what of large crowds of fans all packed in together in a stadium? Surely, that's not good either. But at least Chelsea manager Carlo Ancelotti, has shared his family's traditional remedy for flu. ''It is my grandmother's prescription,'' he said. ''It's hot milk with red wine. Fantastic.''

Tuesday, 27 October 2009

Swine flu vaccine - an odds-on winner?

SINCE no one can guarantee 100 per cent that the swine flu vaccine is safe, I disucssed yesterday about the pure statistics of it as a risk management exercise - which is the greater risk: getting complications from swine flu or getting complications from the vaccine. So very timely, this week's New Scientist will discuss that very issue. And here's a sneak glimpse at their reasoning:

"The risk of getting Guillain-Barré from a flu vaccine is almost certainly less than 1 in a million; the risk of getting it from flu itself is more than 40 in a million. Swine flu is estimated to have killed 800 people in the US already, or more than 2 in every million so far. And during the first wave of swine flu this summer, 1 out of every 20,000 children aged 4 or under in the US ended up in hospital."

It adds: "Still think it's safe not to get vaccinate?". Find out more at The New Scientist.

Monday, 26 October 2009

States of Emergency

IT was just as I was hearing that my diabetic friend had decided not to have the swine flu vaccination that America declared a State of Emergency over the deteriorating swine flu situation. It struck me that her drive into town was probably statistically more dangerous than any risk from the vaccine. In fact, as there's been no problems with the trials, it certainly is more dangerous to drive on Britain's roads. The vaccine is rolled out this week and, while pointing out I'm not a specialist medical reporter (my only speciality is that I ask questions), I do tell friends that I'll be first in the queue for my swine flu jab. Why was my friend not having the vaccine even though as a diabetic she's in the 'at risk' group? She was worried about any potential side effects. I asked her which articles she'd read to come to this conclusion - "none". I asked her if she'd spoken to her GP about the decision or any other learned person - no. Did she know what risks and how much at risk she was from contracting swine flu? No. The UK government begins another advertising campaign this week but faced with this sort of 'gut feeling' decision-making, they've got a tough battle on their hands.

Sunday, 25 October 2009

Passing the buck

Sunday is my day off so I usually use this day to flag up someone else's swine flu blog. Take a look at this one by Tom, a north London freelance writer. Nicely written and nicely illustrated.

Saturday, 24 October 2009

Elmo v Dirty Bertie

This blog is 100 days old and it began with a disucssion about what advice to give children. So after the 100 days I thought I would return to the varying advice for kids. In the blue corner is Elmo who is teaching American kids to wipe their nose on their sleeve - something that will have every UK parent going "eeeuuugh!!" at this moment. In the red corner is Dirty Bertie who advises children through a comic strip to use a tissue. Don't American kids have hankies or tissues? Is the UK the only civilised country in the world when it comes to personal hygiene for children? Or could the Americans actually be offering better advice? In England we have a popular Saturday evening show  and the first part always ends with a comical fight between two burning issues of the day (usually portrayed by dressed-up characters shown fighting it out). I think Elmo and Dirty Bertie should be lined up for such a fight to find out who is right! In the meantime, here's the link to Dirty Bertie's comic strip and below is Elmo's more hi-tech video: (post your comments below as to who should be the winner).

Friday, 23 October 2009

The nature of the beast

I think Dr Ruth Hussey has put her finger on the nature of the swine flu beast in her latest bulletin. The North West Director for Public Health said: “It seems that although the total number of people catching the virus is going up slowly overall, the complications people are experiencing are severe." In the early days of swine flu, we were expecting many people to be ill and many to be seriously affected or killed. But it seems rather than this strain of pandemic is affecting many - most not seriously at all - but others it is singling out for a particularly severe attack. Why? What is it about those who are being worst affected? There seems no common denominator - you can be very healthy or have severe health problems; you can be young or you can be old; you  can be male or female. But Dr Hussey's observation perhaps gives a clue to how best the NHS can form a strategy to tackle swine flu in the next few weeks - a concentration on the large minority who are going to need very specialist treatment to get them through it.
The latest UK figures from the HPA show 119 deaths so far from swine flu (up from 109 last week) And 884 were hospitalised in the week from Ocotber 15 to 21 compared with 667 in the previous week.
In case you haven't seen it already, my interview with Professor Ashton, Cumbria's director of public health, is now online.

Thursday, 22 October 2009

Healthy 'at risk' from swine flu

The general view of the public is probably that everyone can get swine flu but only the unhealthy suffer serious complications. It's reinforced by the health authorities declaring Mr or Mrs X had "underlying health problems" (UHPs). But as we have seen, even soldiers who have just passed a full medical can succumb to this virus.

The Health Protection Agency has said that about one-fifth of deaths from swine flu are among the fully fit. Now the latest report by the World Health Organisation highlights the number in intensive care who had "no predisposing conditions". There's still a lack of clarity over what are UHPs (pneumonia sure - but what about pregnancy or that the person is a smoker?) but I can do no better than quote the relevant part of the WHO report:

"Three articles of interest published this week in the peer reviewed literature reported three different series of seriously ill pandemic influenza patients in Canada, Mexico, Australia, and New Zealand. Several important observations were made including:

• A significant portion of patients with severe disease requiring intensive care had no predisposing conditions. The numbers are not directly comparable as the studies categorized conditions differently but nearly 1/3 of ICU patients in Australia and New Zealand had no predisposing conditions. 98% of ICU cases in Canada had a comorbid condition, which in this report included hypertension, smoking, and substance abuse, but only 30% had comorbid conditions that were considered "major". In Mexico, 84% of critical patients had an underlying condition, which in the report included hypertension, ever having smoked, and hyperlipidemia, conditions that are not considered risk factors for severe influenza outcomes. All three groups were impressed by the number of severe cases occurring in previously healthy individuals."

and here's the link to the rest of the article. Methinks the simplest answer to which members of the swine flu family (pictured above) should get vaccinated, is "all of them".

Wednesday, 21 October 2009

Ho-hum news

"Ho-hum news" is how one fellow blogger describes it. That's the news today of vaccinations starting against swine flu. I have heard some discussion among colleagues and friends about 'should-we or shouldn't-we have the vaccine' but it's probably more concerning that the majority aren't discussing it. It's all part of this culture of swine flu happening to someone else - perhaps an elderly asthmatic grandmother. But you only have to look at the official figures for age groups affected by swine flu - or my unofficial death list - to realise swine flu can strike anyone and everyone. The young and healthy are, in fact, more likely to suffer from swine flu than the older person. Today is the anniversary of the Battle of Trafalgar and today begins a new battle - the Battle against Swine Flu.

Tuesday, 20 October 2009

Fighting swine flu on the front line

Hats off to our own health and safety officer who has put a box of tissues and swine flu notice in our reception area (see picture above). A simple but hopefully effective way of combating the spread of swine flu. The government advise people throw the tissue in a bin afterwards so make sure there's a bin handy. And offering somewhere for people to wash their hands may not always be practical but a bottle of handgel will do the trick. Pass it on - the good tip, not the swine flu!

Monday, 19 October 2009

I told you so

Some people question the purpose of the list of UK swine flu victims that I run but it is about the only public source of UK data on deaths available at the moment. And as long ago as October 3 I flagged up that women seemed more vulnerable than men. Now there's a bit more scientific credibility lent to this. The World Health Organisation have flagged it up and a Canadian doctor has also raised it in a survey reported in The Vancouver Sun. It's probably too early to prove scientifically that women are more at risk but it will probably encourage more women to take the vaccine being made available in the UK on Wednesay. More worryingly, the Canadian study suggests 70 per cent of those who suffer the most severely (or die) were perfectly healthy beforehand. In this country the HPA have said that one-fifth were previously healthy. Whatever the precise final figure, it shows that young fit and healthy people need to be on their guard as much as asthmatic, pregnant or other at risk folk.

Sunday, 18 October 2009

Intrusion into grief

Is wanting to know about the lives of those who died from swine flu an intrusion into grief? The short answer is yes if the family and friends would prefer not to talk about it. But many do and I for one am glad that they do tell us about their loved one's lives. It stops these deaths just being cold statistics and makes us aware that some lovely people have been brought down by this vicious bug. And it shakes off any complacency that swine flu is just something that happens to "other people". Those 'other people' are perhaps envisaged by most of the public as still weak, sickly old people. Far from it. Health officials seem quick to say they're not realeasing any more details out of respect for the family but I don't suppose I'm the only journalist to have received a call from the bereaved family the day after publication wanting to know why we didn't get in touch to find out more about their loved one's life. The decision to talk or not to talk must be the family's and not the well intended but misguided view of the health authority press office. And if anyone needs reassurance that talking about the loss of a loved one need be a morose affair rather than a celebration of that person's life just look at the many wonderful tributes to David Hayes.

I think poster Pauly below is quite right - I have misunderstood the maths in the wire stories that talked about a doubling of swine flu (journalists and maths eh?!). My only defence is that the story I was looking at (here) doesn't readily justify the headline "rate doubled". I'm an old-fashioned sub who likes the justification of the headline in nothing lower than the second paragraph! But has the rate 'doubled'? (and is that the rate for England or the UK, and has it doubled in a week, fortnight or month). If it went from 14,000 to 18,000 to 27,000 over the last three weeks that's surely 'more than doubled' over the last week. I feel a graph coming on! There was a headline during the week which talked about swine flu deaths  in Scotland rising by 40 per cent - they had gone up from 10 to 14. It's quite accurate but "four more deaths from swine flu" might have been a better way of putting it in context.

Saturday, 17 October 2009

So what is two times 18,000?

When I started this blog I said I would look occasionally at the use of maths and statistics. Journalists are not known for their numeric skills and this is ably demonstrated by a story that went round the wires a couple of days ago. To quote just one such headline from the web coverage: " Swine flu rate doubled last week, according to new figures" and it goes on to say: "There were 27,000 confirmed new cases of H1N1 swine flu last week, an increase on the 18,000 cases the previous week..." So twice times 18,000 is 27,000? Er, shurely shome mishtake! I also said I'd criticise any irresponsible journalism but the Daily Mail just makes that too easy. I'll wait until a paper with some credibility starts doing daft things.

Friday, 16 October 2009

Swine flu's wake-up call

I was talking to a lady earlier this week about swine flu and she said: "Swine flu? I thought that was all finished with?". And on Tuesday it was very much 'yesterday's news'. But today it's back with a vengeance. Deaths have jumped from 89 to 105. The number of new cases (although difficult to estimate) has increased from 18,000 last week to 27,000 this week. And the human side of the tragedy is highlighted by the deaths of two pregnant women (one in Wales and one in Scotland). Neither had any underlying health problems. At least no pregnant women will be in any doubt this morning that they are in the 'at risk' category. Vaccination starts in the UK on October 21st - postal strikes permitting.

In our region (the north west) the number of anti-virals collected in the North West on October 7th was 1,501, up from 1,306 on September 29th. And the number of people being treated in hospital has gone up to 62 from 54 a week ago.

The readers of this blog fired a number of questions at Cumbria's director of public health, Prof John Ashton. The answers are now online and my interview with him will be published shortly.

Thursday, 15 October 2009

UK swine flu death toll nears 100

The official swine flu figures for the last week will be announced today at about 5pm and are likely to show death figures nudging up to 100 - a sad landmark. While we may think the numbers are small, each death is a tragedy - and it's sobering to remember it's early days yet. This could be a long winter. So no complacency, keep up that catch it, bin it, kill it regime and plenty of handwashing. Looking back on the 100 deaths, perhaps the most surprising factor is the number of perfectly healthy people killed by the virus. That's something the public probably didn't expect it. But even that is a reminder that we all need to take this pandemic seriously.

Wednesday, 14 October 2009

A family contingency plan

One interesting point out of my meeting with Cumbria's director of medicine, Prof Ashton, yesterday was the advice for families to have a contingency plan ready for if swine flu does worsen over the winter. He pointed out that during the Carlisle floods, smaller firms struggled to cope. Bigger firms had a contingency plan but smaller ones had never bothered - and on occasion paid a heavy price. And if small firms aren't prepared for the swine flu epidemic, then you can bet few families have prepared a plan. But if 30 per cent of your family is incapacitated that could mean both mum and dad in bed with flu - so who is going to take the kids to school? Who is going to get the food shopping? Time to draw up a plan - just bear in mind that, on current figures, 30 per cent of your extended family and friends will also be ill with flu!

Tuesday, 13 October 2009

The vaccine: A briefing

There are  two pandemic flu vaccines to be given to UK patients. Both  have been approved by the European Medicines Agency and licensed by the European Commission: Pandemrix, manufactured by GlaxoSmithKline and approved in September, and Celvapan, manufactured by Baxter and approved last week.

From the website:

Is the vaccine safe?

The government will use the vaccines only after they have been licensed by the European authorities. The licence will be issued by the European Commission following advice from the European Medicines Agency. Vaccines would not be licensed if they were considered unsafe.

And more from European Medicines Agency (EMEA):

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.

The EMEA has requested that vaccine manufacturers introduce plans to investigate and monitor the safety of vaccines as soon as they are used across the EU, so that action can be taken as early as possible if a safety issue emerges.

Priority for swine flu vaccine

People at the most risk from swine flu will be given priority for the swine flu vaccine. The following groups will be prioritised in this order:

   1. people aged over six months and under 65 years in seasonal flu vaccine at-risk groups
   2. all pregnant women, subject to licensing conditions on trimesters
   3. household contacts of people with reduced immune systems - eg people in regular close contact with patients on treatment for cancer
   4. people aged 65 and over in the seasonal flu vaccine at-risk groups - this does not include otherwise healthy over 65s as they appear to have some natural immunity to the virus

Vaccination of frontline health and social care workers will begin at the same time as the first at-risk group.

The Guardian reoprted this about side effects:

The common side effects were those you'd expect from seasonal flu vaccine: pain where the vaccine was injected (reported by 36 percent of Australian volunteers and 70 percent of UK volunteers) and muscle aches or headaches (reported by 45 percent of Australian volunteers and 42 percent of UK volunteers).

Monday, 12 October 2009

Why all the interest?

I'd intended to start today on the coverage of the vaccine - but I need to get one thing off my chest first (if you'll pardon the flu analogy). Log on to any swine flu discussion on the net and there's always someone ranthing about how much coverage the subject is getting when "only 89 people have died" (and yes, we all acknowledge that a death toll of one is too many). The posters point out that 5,000 die each year from ordinary winter flu. So can I just remind everyone why the media is/are so interested in swine flu:

1. It's a pandemic. A global one. Rather than the more geographically-limited epidemics of winter flu

2. It's predicted that (worst-case scenario) 19,000 people could die.

The media can't start covering swine flu only when it gets to 5,001. The media needs to start educating and informing people now. That's why we should be interested in swine flu.

Sunday, 11 October 2009

Two more Scottish deaths

Scotland continues to suffer a heavy toll from swine flu. The deaths of two more men have been reported today. Press Association say: "Both patients, a 42-year-old man from Glasgow and a 75-year-old man from Grampian, had underlying health conditions." This brings the Scottish death toll to 12. And just as we were thinking swine flu might go away.

Saturday, 10 October 2009

Getting really serious

I was cynical from the start when health spokesman kept saying that the people dying from swine flu had, by and large 'underlying health problems'. Particularly as they wouldn't say what the UHPs were. And when that phrase became a little tired they suddenly started throwing in "serious" underlying health problems. But they still wouldn't explain what an underlying health problem was, yet alone what a "serious UHP" was. So I had to give a whince when the BBC reported that a boy who died from swine flu not only had UHPs and that they were serious but even added "the boy was confirmed having serious underlying health problems". Still no details as to what they were but no doubt the next case will be "confirmed as really, really definite serious UHPs. Honest.".

Friday, 9 October 2009

Not with a bang but with a sneeze?

THE phrase of the day among the national press is 'lucky break' - pointing to the latest swine flu figures from the Health Protection Agency. As the BBC says, new cases in England have risen from 14,00o to 18,000 but they were 9,000 the week before which suggests a slowing down. Or does it. The HPA report precedes this 9,000 figure by saying: "Interpretation of data to produce estimates on the number of new cases continues to be subject to a considerable amount of uncertainty".

The BBC goes further and say "in Scotland the number of new infections has halved to 6,800". I finally found this figure in the Health Protection Scotland figures - they're at the bottom of page 13. The next line at the top of page 14 starts "At present these are unreliable estimates..." Hmmm. The top bullet point in the HPS report is: "16% decrease on the consultation rate" - still encouraging news. The problem with us journalists is we like to pull out one headline-grabbing figure from a mass of facts and figures that are better kept alongside each other. Of course, in this age of the web it would be easy for the BBC and other news services to give a fair summary and then give links to the actual reports so readers can investigate further. A bit like this:

* This week's HPA report for the UK
* This week's HPS report for Scotland
* This week's NPHS report for Wales

There. How difficult was that.

You can probably guess that I'm trying to make the point that "lucky break" could instill an unwarranted sense of complacency.

So has swine flu gone away - not with a bang but with a sneeze? Sadly, I doubt it and Sir Liam Donaldson says it's a lucky break as it will give England the chance to get the virus out before the predicted second wave really begins to bite. Deaths have also risen from 84 to 89 in the last week (I've updated my unofficial list with details that have been made public). The number taken into hospital in the last week was 520, compared with 498 the previous week (the biggest age group being nought to five). A more considered view of the national situation probably comes from the HPA report:

"In week 40 (week ending 04 October), the weekly influenza/ILI consultation rates increased in England (though remained below the baseline) and Wales (over the baseline) and decreased slightly in Scotland (below baseline) and Northern Ireland (remaining above the newly defined provisional threshold levels). In England the highest rates continue to be in the northern regions."

Good news is always welcome but let's avoid unfounded complacency.

Thursday, 8 October 2009

The Emperor's new clothes

I've a feeling that today's going to be a rather grim day when the Health Protection Agency announces the latest swine flu figures at five o'clock. So here's some light relief: It's a suit that will protect you from swine flu - at least according to the Japanese manufacturer. The suit (pictured above) is coated with titanium dioxide, which reacts to light to break down and kill the virus when it comes into contact with it - allegedly.

And a final call for questions for Prof Ashton, Cumbria's medical director. I'll be meeting up with him on Tuesday to discuss all things swine fluy, so if you have any questions email me.

Wednesday, 7 October 2009

Ten deaths in the north west

FOR some reason Dr Ruth Hussey, the north west director of public health, has finally relented to tell the press how many people have died from swine flu in the north west: It's 10. Well done to the Manchester Evening News for obtaining this data. But given the small number, one wonders why she was so scared of telling the press? It seems to be a reaction to the very sad death of a fit and healthy 24-year-old woman, Louise Jones, whose death in Greater Manchester has just been made public by the family. Dr Hussey rightly reaffirms that despite the tragedy of this event the virus is usually mild and deaths rare. Did she fear a 'We're all going to die" type headline? I've not seen any reckless reporting by the media - rather the opposite. It might be too much to ask how many of those 10 deaths occurred in Cumbria but it is top of my list of questions for Prof Ashton, Cumbria's medical director.
So why all the fuss if there are so few deaths? Because the government has warned of 19,000 deaths over the winter and it would be useful to know if only women were dying or only people in their 20s were dying or if only cyclists living in Whitehaven are dying. They're not. But without any information, how do we know?! And why are medical authorities so scared of releasing even basic data?

Tuesday, 6 October 2009

The young and healthy

There was some interesting data in The Guardian last Thursday (October 1) on swine flu patients.
Unfortunately, I've been unable to find out where The Guardian got this information from. The paper describes it was a Department of Health patient survey but despite an extensive search by the DofH press office, they could find no record of it. But I trust The Guardian so I'll happily repeat the few findings they reported:
* More than 80 per cent of children under the age of five who have been hospitalised with swine flu had no underlying health problems.
* And almost half of those aged 16 to 14 who needed inpatient treatment for the infection had also been previously healthy.
* More than one in four patients admitted to hospital had asthma, more than 15 per cent had heart disease and more than 10 per cent had diabetes
However, the sample was only of 192 patients. It reaffirms that the fit and healthy among us - that's Dad in my swine flu family above - shouldn't be complacent. And while The Whitehaven News reported this week on an outbreak of suspected swine flu in an old folk's home, the elderly actually seem to be more resistant to it than most.

Monday, 5 October 2009

The more bizarre headlines

Swine flu is not a laughing mater but here are some of the more bizarre swine flu headlines that have caught my eye...

  • No Swine Flu deaths in Botswana
  • Canadian Aboriginals get body bags after asking government for swine flu help
  • Is St Thérèse of Lisieux spreading swine flu?
  • Prisoners Got Drunk On Swine Flu Gel
  • Now they want to ban handshakes
  • Media spreading virus of fear

Sunday, 4 October 2009

MP's questions

Helping flublogia (the internet community interested in swine flu) in their quest for data on swine flu in Andrew Pelling, MP for Central Croydon. He has tabled questions in parliament seeking information with limited success. The answers provided by the HPA have proved to be 'lacking'. I can't find the figures on Andrew's site at the moment but they are included in the rebuttal by Sheila Bird on Straight Statistics. Sheila says: "Either the Health Protection Agency doubted that a Member of Parliament was capable of posing an epidemiologically-adept Parliamentary Question and hence misread it, or HPA chose helpfully to answer a different question which they could answer." Crucially she appeals for data by age group to help form a strategy for dealing with the second wave.

Saturday, 3 October 2009

Are women more at risk?

It would be interesting to see male/female figures on swine flu. The impression I'm getting from the limited data available seems to suggest women are more at risk from swine flu than men. Anyone got any official data?

Friday, 2 October 2009

Latest figures

"Swine flu almost doubles" is the headline figure from the latest HPA reports on swine flu in the UK. But despite that I think there are reasons to be optimistic. It's easy to concentrate on 'doom and gloom' but with just two more deaths (total now 84) and a slowing down in fatalities, I'd suggest that the health service is doing a good job of containing the worst effects of this virus. Sure, more are getting it but it's generally a mild condition. Other headlines from the HPA report on Week 40:

* Rates remain below the normal winter seasonal baseline thresholds in England and Wales. The threshold has been breached in Scotland, and rates are well above newly defined provisional threshold levels in N. Ireland. In England the highest rates are in the northern regions.

* In England, on 30 September there were 286 hospitalised patients with suspected pandemic influenza, an increase from 218 seven days previously.

* The consultation rates in the RCGP scheme have increased in most age groups (figure 3), with the greatest increases in the 1-4 year-olds (15.7 to 37.8 per 100,000) and 5-14 year-olds (22.6 to 22.4 per 100,000. (5 to 14 age group is down in Scotland but remains high in 0 to 4 age group)

Thursday, 1 October 2009

Play the Swine Flu Family game

There's a slimmed down version of my swine flu family above (and a larger version on my flickr account here) so I can more easily pose the question: "Who is most at risk?". It's been hard to find answers with the paucity of data on swine flu but they're all likely to catch swine flu - with Betsy aged seven most likely to crop up in the doctor's surgery but that may be down more to worried parents than ill children. Dad is super fit but as we're seeing that's no immunity from swine flu - even the very rare fatal flu. Gran and Grandad might worry you because of their age but as long as they are otherwise healthy the NHS aren't expressing concern unless they are over 65. And Simon at University might be best placed to catch swine flu but it's actually pregnant mum who is the only one of this family who crops up on the NHS "at risk" list. Pregnancy means the immune system is naturally suppressed.

The complete 'at risk' categories are: (Source: NHS)
 •Patients who have had drug treatment for asthma in the past three years

•Pregnant women

•People aged 65 years and older

•Children under five years old

•People with chronic lung disease

•People with chronic heart disease

•People with chronic kidney disease

•People with chronic liver disease

•People with chronic neurological disease

•People with immunosuppression (whether caused by disease or treatment)

•People with diabetes mellitus