Friday, December 24, 2010

Referral: Fergus Walsh On The UK Flu



# 5174


Fergus Walsh is the BBC medical correspondent who writes the Fergus’s Medical Files blog.  Last year, during the pandemic, Fergus wrote extensively on influenza, and still does with some regularity today.


Late yesterday he published a blog on the spike in flu cases in the UK, a subject I’ve covered a couple of times recently (see here and here).


While we cover a lot of the same issues – in addition to explaining some of the case counts and fatality numbers - Fergus brings us comments from Professor Peter Openshaw, director of the Centre for Respiratory Infections at Imperial College London.




Is swine flu a worry?

Fergus Walsh | 19:30 UK time, Thursday, 23 December 2010


None of these reassuring words (mine or Mr. Walsh’s) should be viewed as suggesting that the UK isn’t getting slammed by a serious wave of influenza.


It is.


And the numbers we get in the press, only tell part of the story.   There are undoubtedly hundreds of (mostly mild) cases sick at home for every patient in the hospital.


The 27 deaths being widely reported is also, likely, just the tip of the iceberg.  A lot of flu-related deaths simple aren’t attributed to influenza.  They get blamed on pneumonia, heart problems, COPD, or some other chronic condition.


What makes the UK’s outbreak so newsworthy are the demographics of those being hospitalized.


Unlike with previous seasonal flu strains, the 2009 H1N1 virus has a predilection for those under the age of 65.  So, disturbingly, younger adults and children are the hardest hit groups.


Thus far, however, in terms of total numbers hospitalized or killed, the outbreak of influenza in the UK looks pretty much like what we’d expect during any severe (non-pandemic) flu season.


Flu viruses are notoriously unpredictable, however.


They can mutate unexpectedly, and pockets of greater virulence can sometimes occur, even when the rest of the world is seeing a milder virus. And quite frankly, we only know when that happens in retrospect.


Given the limits of our technology, it is pure folly to try to predict what the influenza virus will do tomorrow or next week or next month.


So the best defense this year – and every year - is to get the flu shot and to practice good flu etiquette and hygiene.

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