Friday, August 21, 2009

Vaccination, antivirals and some respite

Fergus Walsh | 12:04 UK time, Thursday, 20 August 2009
After several weeks' absence, I was delighted to see that the discussion has continued at Fergus On Flu. I haven't read all your comments yet, but I am really pleased that the blog has become established as a forum for discussion on an issue that now appears only sporadically in the media.
Swine flu virus multiplication from an animation sequence by the Novartis pharmaceutical companyI had a very good break - and encountered no H1N1 swine flu - and then filmed some news stories, so I have not been on holiday all this time! Many thanks for your kind wishes and for continuing the conversation.

A few issues which emerged while I've been away:
• First, vaccination policy on H1N1 swine flu. The decision to immunise those with existing medical problems, pregnant women and healthcare workersthis autumn was no surprise and had been widely predicted. Holding back from a wider immunisation campaign at this stage is interesting. Limiting the vaccine to at-risk groups will still create a huge logistical problem for the health service which will also be immunising the elderly and the vulnerable this autumn. I anticipate some public confusion about who is eligible for what.

• Another interesting development concerned the study about antivirals and children. This questioned the policy of giving Tamiflu or Relenza to otherwise healthy children who catch the H1N1 virus. The research suggested that the side-effects outweighed the benefits, but was based on seasonal flu, not on H1N1 swine flu. It seems to me that the research raises important issues, but is not a definitive study or the final word on whether antivirals should be available to all.

• Finally, as many had hoped, the incidence of flu has dropped sharply in August. This gives the NHS - and us all - some respite. The question now is: when will cases start to rise? I suggest looking to Scotland, where children are heading back to school well before those in England and Wales (see also BBC Northern Ireland's Flu meeting ahead of school start). If Scotland experiences a sudden increase in cases in the coming few weeks, then a similar surge can be expected elsewhere in the UK.

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