Monday, July 20, 2009

Our swinest hour? Unfortunately not...

The British government is a great believer in straightforward questions and answers when it comes to swine flu. So here are a few of my own, based on empirical observations in a number of clinical settings. (As well as watching the telly and looking at Twitter.)

Q. Is it possible to distinguish between the symptoms of swine flu and any other kind of flu or nasty respiratory virus?

A. Not really. They can all give you a high temperature, a cough and some aches and pains. The only way of knowing whether someone's got swine flu is to take a swab and send it to a path lab.

Q. Are we therefore swabbing anyone we suspect of having swine flu?

A. No. That's too difficult, time-consuming and expensive. And it means that people who may be infected need to come to the surgery.

Q. So how do we know if someone has swine flu or not?

A. We don't. But if they tell us on the phone that they have a high temperature and a cough, we'll say it's likely they have it.

Q. And if it's likely they have swine flu, do they get the anti-viral drug Tamiflu?

A. It depends where they live. Some areas are handing it out liberally. Others are much more cautious.

Q. But shouldn't everyone have the same access to Tamiflu?

A. It probably doesn't make much difference, because the drug only shortens the duration of the illness by about a day and it takes at least a day of battling with the NHS bureaucracy to get hold of the pills. And the vast majority of people with swine flu get it in a mild form, so probably don't need anti-viral drugs.

Q. Isn't there a danger that the bug will become resistant to Tamiflu?

A. The World Health Organization is already monitoring instances of resistance around the world. But we continue to recommend it for anyone who phones up with a cough and a high temperature.

I'm sure this page will need updating. So check back regularly at Washed and Ready to Eat for the latest H1N1 news.

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