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.

No comments:

Post a Comment