28.7.09

Much a Flu About Nothing?


If you believed some of the papers this weekend you’d think the world is about to end. The cause? swine flu, what else? Speaking to a GP this weekend – on a social basis – I conveyed to him that I simply cannot get excited or worried about swine flu and asked him for the ‘view from the coalface’, which stands in complete contrast to the majority of media reports. I believe the media has contributed greatly to the public hysteria, er, I mean, interest in swine flu.

According to this GP, ‘normal flu’ kills tens of thousands each year – healthy and weak alike - but no one’s death certificate ever reads ‘died of a cold’, it would be noted as ‘respiratory failure’ or ‘pneumonia’. In the winter of 1999-2000 some 90,000 Britons died of a common cold. Did you hear anything about an epidemic back then…? Anyone, anyone…Bueller?

No. I didn’t think so.

So while everyone’s busy criticising the diagnosis process, remember that GPs and call centre staff are under pressure to accurately diagnose swine flu. This could easily lead to misdiagnosis and the wrong prescription being issued when rest and relaxation would usually suffice.

While we’re on the subject of prescriptions, do you fancy taking the anti-viral Tamiflu? I invite you to check the recorded side effects before you do, which have been known to include everything from nausea and nightmares to the fatal Stevens-Johnson organ failure syndrome. Given the numbers that are anticipated to take Tamiflu you can bet we’ll hear stories for sure. And, by issuing Tamiflu early on in the process, swine flu may well develop resistance and render it useless in the long run.

I expect an increasingly desperate media to latch onto swine flu every time the economy provides signs of recovery or no MP has claimed for garden furniture in the last five days, but I think they’ve got to shoulder a lot of responsibility for the perception among the general public when what’s really needed – what journalists and editors who pride themselves on accuracy would promote – is perspective. While I’m not doubting swine flu is serious and it’s a tragedy when anyone dies, I won’t be listening to media advice on the subject because, quite frankly, they’ve cried wolf, and I’ll do what I would do for any other cold.

Here are a few of my favourite recent alarmist ‘Swine Flu Balls’ headlines:

Junkies and alcoholics ‘manning flu hotlines’ – The Sun, 24 July

Swine Flu: 160 Brits quarantined around the world as NHS faces crisis – The Mirror, 24 July

Swine Flu Nigel and the deadly handshake – Telegraph, 25 July

Swine flu pandemic could fuel rise in workplace litigation – Guardian, 27 July

1 comment:

  1. One of my friends works at the part of the COI that launched the Swine Flu public information website and service. Ironic - she's now off work with it. One of FIRE's clients has it as well and two other friends of mine. All unrelated cases - however, all of them have exceptionally different symptoms. From "I'm dying" to "It's not much worse than a cold". Hysteria and media hype indeed.

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