Sunday, 24 May 2009

Swine Flu - Better to live in the UK than the USA

Once again the NHS is proving its worth in the UK. Swine flu cases have now reached 122 here in the UK, but the rate at which it is spreading I find somewhat reassuring. I live in the South West where 3 cases evolved weeks ago. A family returning from a holiday in Mexico brought it back with them. The girl's school was shut and all her class mates given Tamiflu. I anticipated as a result that spread in the South West was inevitable, but weeks later still no further cases have been reported.

In the UK, I understand that people presenting with even mild symptoms of suspected swine flu are being tested and are prescribed with Tamiflu, and even close contacts who are not presenting with symptoms are offered Tamiflu as a precaution. Reason being, according to the NHS guidelines, 'Testing has shown that the swine flu can be treated with the antiviral medicines oseltamavir (brand name Tamiflu) and zanamivir (Relenza). However, the drugs must be administered at an early stage to be effective'.

If you develop flu like symptoms in the UK, the advice is not to visit your GP, but to call a help line, to avoid spreading the virus.

In the USA, however, the guidelines are completely different. The CDC says that treatment is available for those that are seriously ill (therefore no treatment is available for those who are not seriously ill?), even though it also goes on to admit that antiviral drugs work best if given within 2 days of becoming ill. The CDC advice if you develop the flu:

'It is expected that most people will recover without needing medical care.
If you have severe illness or you are at high risk for flu complications, contact your health care provider or seek medical care. Your health care provider will determine whether flu testing or treatment is needed. Be aware that if the flu becomes wide spread, there will be little need to continue testing people, so your health care provider may decide not to test for the flu virus.'

Wow, I would have to wait until I am seriously ill before seeking medical treatment in the USA? And even then no clear direction on how to get treatment, just that I should 'seek medical care' - so I guess I would turn up at the emergency room and contaminate everyone there right?

Of course I understand why this course of inaction - money. But surely the savings in not treating people early with antivirals are going to cost the economy a whole lot more in the long run?

So no surprise that further deaths are anticipated. Also inevitable that it is just a matter of time before the swine flu becomes widespread throughout the USA. Glad I don't live there. And I figure not a good idea to visit the USA either, at least not for the next 12 months!

The only useful tip I picked up from the CDC is that aspirin should not be given to children 18 or under with the swine flu, due to the increased risk in Reye's syndrome - something I knew nothing about (although I know in general is it not a good idea to give children aspirin).

Here's the MedWorm swine flu page with RSS feed, updated every hour, for all the very latest information from offical sources.