Friday, 18 December 2009

End of the second wave?

Judging by the drop in swine flu figures over the last few weeks, it would seem we are coming to the end of the second wave. Could it be the end of swine flu or will there be yet another wave in the new year? We will have to wait and see. In the meantime I'm off on a week's holiday ahead of Christmas so it seems a suitable time for a break. I may add any breaking news on here. And keep an eye on my other blog, Copeland Crack. For those not from Cumbria, I should explain that 'crack' is a dialect term for gossip or chat - not some suspect drugs!

Thursday, 17 December 2009

Caption competition

It's the must-have toy for all swine flu followers: A swine flu cuddly toy from GiantMicrobes! And I'm prepared to go to all the expense of givine one away free to the person who comes up with the best caption for the picture of me holding the GiantMicrobe (above). Just email your caption to by midnight on December 31st 2009 and the best one will win.

Wednesday, 16 December 2009

Swine flu spin

Doing my usual trawl of swine flu news, I came across the startling news that "The UK’s Chief Medical Officer Sir Liam Donaldson resigns". And this world exclusive was in the Pharma Times - had this unusual news service really scooped the BBC et al? Er, no. Having been tricked into clicking on the link I was duly told that he is due to resign in May - as has always been planned, after 12 years dutiful service. If I need to increase hits to my website I usually resort to reviving the Parton sea monster story or I light a Chinese lantern and wait for UFO reports to flood in. But hats off to The Pharman Times for some delightful swine flu spin.

Tuesday, 15 December 2009

You can quote me on that

In addition to swine flu headlines, I keep an eye out for swine flu quotes. And the 'distance' of a few months is already showing one or two of them to be dangerously naive. Take my favourite from Ryanair boss Michael O'Leary (The Times April 28, 2009): “It is a tragedy only for people living ... in slums in Asia or Mexico. But will the honeymoon couple from Edinburgh die? No. A couple of Strepsils will do the job." It would be  funny if the people of Scotland hadn't been so badly hit by swine flu.

And I'm not sure how genuine this one is (it's doing the rounds on the net) but it seems to illustrate how in the early days even someone getting swine flu was considered news: "People in the town of Chipping Sodbury were shocked to learn today that a member of their community had swine flu."

Monday, 14 December 2009

Leave emotion out of it

The post at the end of my Whitehaven News blog from Mary Grady is typical of the frustration felt by many people hearing conflicting views about the swine flu jab. She asks for my opionion and I always have to start by saying I'm a journalist, not a doctor. But I'm not going to chicken out of stating my view: Yes, I would get the swine flu jab (I have asthma so will no doubt get called up at some point). Mary says it is "very emotional" trying to decide. Well it is but emotion is probably the last thing you need to make the decision. I'd rely instead on cold logic. Which is more likely - getting swine flu or getting complications from the swine flu jab? In short, getting swine flu. Both are rare occurrences at the moment but it's no good starting to get a bad reaction to swine flu and then wishing you'd had the jab. If you're deciding to have or not have the jab it has to be based on 'something' and "just a feeling" ain't no good. So you have to base your decision on cold scientific logic - in which case there's no argument: have the jab and stay well. These articles on the New Scientist website may also help you: Swine flu - eight myths that could endanger your life.

Sunday, 13 December 2009

Christmas Cheer

I'm worried that this blog is a bit too depressing at times so for Sunday here's a piece of good news and Christmas cheer to show it's not all doom and gloom in flublogia. It concerns a Wiltshire man who came close to death with swine flu complications but is now on the mend and could be home for Christmas. Credit where credit is due to the health professionals on the front line in the swine flu war. See Wiltshire Times.

Saturday, 12 December 2009

Cold snap to freeze out swine flu?

The temperature in Britain has dropped faster than Tiger Woods' trousers. It's been about 2C today and could drop even lower tomorrow. I'm willing to be corrected but this seems to be good news for the fight against swine flu - the virus preferring warmer weather. The old myth that cold weather gives you colds is true but only to a certain temperature. This cold snap is hopefully cold enough to even freeze out swine flu. Certainly everyone is wearing scarfs now which are probably as effective as face masks ever were!

Friday, 11 December 2009

Meet Auntie Doris

Week 50 and the latest figures show another 17 deaths in the UK (actually only in England - Scotland, NI and Wales not having any deaths in the last seven days). The general trend seems to be downward which bodes well for swine flu fizzling out. May I at this stage introduce my Auntie Doris (see picture) who is 100 years old and thankfully still as bright as a button. She has survived two world wars and the great flu pandemic of 1918 and much more besides. I popped down to the Midlands this week to see her so I asked if she had had her swine flu jab. She told me she had decided not to have the jab as she had heard "so many things about it". She did however say that the free computer classes mentioned by the social workers sounded of interest to her - and she was also considering learning sign language. Although her hearing is excellent at the moment, she's considering learning it in case her hearing goes "later in my life". A lesson for us all on keeping things in perspective!

Thursday, 10 December 2009

The doctor is back in

Good grief, I was only absent for a couple of days and the whole swine flu world goes into turmoil: researchers moaning they can't get any study data from the manufacturers of Tamiflu (now why do I have little sympathy with that!) and GPs and the government falling out over the swine flu vaccine for under fives. Fear not. I'm back and from tomorrow will start restoring world order :-)

Saturday, 5 December 2009

Don't count your chickens just yet

I'm a little bit nervous at the number of people I meet (and press reports) that keep saying "the swine flu thing is over". I'm really not sure we can let our guard down just yet. I also heard today about a GP telling a friend of mine that "I ought to tell you to have the swine flu jab but actually I'd advise you against it". Now there may be very specific reasons why this elderly friend should not have the swine flu vaccination but the GP did say "many people are reporting side effects". This doesn't sound a good message for GPs to be putting out. Yes, people are reporting side effects. The chart above shows they are - just as those taking the placebo are reporting side effects. Let's keep our guard up chaps. Winter's only just started.

Friday, 4 December 2009

Swine flu riddle

The latest figures show the usual riddle of swine flu: A general decrease week-on-week in the severity of swine flu but still a leap of 25 deaths in the last week. There have now been 265 deaths (240 last week) in the UK. I've pulled out a graph of Influenza activity around England by strategic health authority (see above). It shows London, Manchester and Birmingham of course as having the most activity, presumably because of the high density population in the major cities.

Swine Flu Top Ten

I'm grateful again to Celvin for bringing together the Top Ten (that's probably not the right phrase) of swine flu death tolls in European countries. It's posted below but to save you scrolling down... 
Europe: death rate by country
So far, around 1125 people have died from H1N1 in Europe*. If we measure number of deaths per million inhabitants, Europe has seen 1.54 deaths per million people as an average
The countries with the highest death rate are
1. SCOTLAND (47) : 9.09
2. WALES (23) : 7.68
3. NORTHERN IRELAND (13) : 7.32
4. MALTA (3) : 7.25
5. ICELAND (2) : 6.26
6. NORWAY (25) : 5.21
7. LUXEMBOURG (2) : 4.05
8. IRELAND (17) : 3.82
9. KOSOVO (7) : 3.25
10. ENGLAND (163) : 3.17
11. MOLDOVA (11) : 3.08
12. FINLAND (16) : 3.00
13. SPAIN (135) : 2.95
UK as a whole : 4.01
*As reported by 29 November
Ukraine's numbers are based on ECDC's data; currently reporting 18 H1N1 deaths

The Scottish official figure released today is 49 but that takes us up to November 30 and Scotland announced a total of 51 deaths yesterday. Scotland as I suspected comes top. Even Wales comes up in second place but Spain seems to have lost its early tag of being a swine flu hot spot and is only at number 13. The latest UK figures are being released at 5pm today.

Wednesday, 2 December 2009

Scotland's heavy toll

There have been an increasing number of headlines in the UK talking about the demise of swine flu. That might be premature. Scotland has just announced that it's death toll has risen above the landmark of 50 to 51. Last Thursday it was 41. Scotland has suffered more than its fair share of tragedy from swine flu including the first UK victim back in June 2009. Lately, Scotland has had something of a half-term breather but swine flu has been quick to catch-up. Schools will soon break-up for Christmas giving a new fire-break but that may suggest January to March 2010 could be our worst weeks.

Tuesday, 1 December 2009

Fisherman's Friends - the latest miracle cures

I am losing track of the 'miracle cures' for swine flu but so far they have included black elderberry, onions, green tea and Welsh Whisky. But the latest one is likely to take your breath away: Fisherman's Friends. Rumours have started that the throat lozenge beloved by grandparents worldwide is a cure for swine flu and in Scotland at least packets are now flying off the shelves. The manufacturers suspect it is because they contain aniseed which is also apparently a key ingredient of Tamiflu. Personally, it would take more than the threat of a potentially fatal disease to get me eating Fisherman's Friends. Besides if you're having onions, Welsh whisky and Fisherman's Friends what on earth is your breath going to smell like?