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Swine flu cases continue to rise

Fergus Walsh | 19:02 UK time, Friday, 5 June 2009

It's understandable that H1N1 swine flu has made fewer appearances on radio and television bulletins in recent weeks.

There was massive coverage when the virus first emerged and when the WHO raised the pandemic threat level to five, one short of six when a pandemic is declared.

But just because swine flu is not getting so much publicity, it does not mean it has gone away. Nor does it mean that the risk of a pandemic - a global epidemic of flu - has abated.

A few figures just released show how cases of swine flu continue to rise.

Health Protection Scotland has confirmed 22 new cases. This includes two doctors at the Royal Alexandra Hospital in Paisley, who are thought to have caught it from patients being treated there. It brings the Scottish total to 141 including four patients who are in a critical but stable condition.

The Health Protection Agency in England has confirmed 27 new cases, bringing the total to 363. Northern Ireland and Wales have two cases each. It brings the UK total to 508.

In the United States the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) has also put out new data which it says it will now update only weekly, on Fridays. It has 13,217 confirmed and probable cases and 27 deaths. At present the number of confirmed US cases is rising by about 1,000 per day.

The World Health Organisation (WHO) released a new global update earlier today. Although it lags behind national statistics, it is still the gold standard for assessing the spread of H1N1 swine flu. It reports 21,940 cases in 69 countries including 125 deaths - 103 of these in Mexico.

Australia has 876 confirmed cases according to the WHO, up from 501 in two days. It now has the highest case-load outside North America. July and August will be the peak season for flu in Australia and there are signs that the virus is taking hold there very quickly.

If widespread community outbreaks are reported in Australia (or the United Kingdom, Chile or Japan in the coming weeks it will be a signal for the WHO to declare a pandemic because the virus will have been shown to be spreading widely in two WHO regions of the world.

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  • 1. At 10:45pm on 05 Jun 2009, arodrigues6 wrote:

    Many thanks for this blog. I'm finding it a very good way to keep informed about the developments with the flu, now that (as you very rightfully said) it has practically disappeared from the news yet it hasnt gone away.

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  • 2. At 08:58am on 06 Jun 2009, MajorGallagher wrote:

    Cases continue to rise but don't you think it should also be getting highlighted how many people currently have the virus and how many have subsequently now recovered?

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  • 3. At 1:45pm on 06 Jun 2009, jodablco wrote:

    Excellent blog - But it opens with a statement I consider very foolish. How is it "understandable" H1N1 is in the news less! This is potentially (or should one now say probably?) one of the MOST important developing events of the decade - if not the century - and yet it is being sidelined by so much comparatively insignificant (so-called) news. Frankly this is a disgrace AND a major failing by the media generally (globally?) - obviously due to poor judgement by media management regarding what news is news-worthy.
    Without media pressure on politicians to take more effective quarantine steps both at home and abroad H1N1 WILL become an epidemic in the UK as well as a global pandemic. Is the probable death of 1000's not news worthy merely because it has not yet happened? Does the media not have a duty to assist in providing effective pressure on politicians to prevent such a tragedy? Or does media management think it more news-worthy to wait until there is an actual disaster taking place? As you can see, I believe the media are failing the public in this matter... and I shall be surprised if this gets posted.

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  • 4. At 2:17pm on 06 Jun 2009, JenBryte wrote:

    I would like to thank you, Fergus, for this blog. I have been frustrated by the lack of news regarding swine flu; I suspect that it is being deliberately downplayed in the media to avoid panic. This has an opposite effect on me, the suspicion of cover up makes me panic more! News I do read seems to be out-of-date, or contradicts other news reports, or is frustratingly lacking in detail.

    I did read a week or so ago that authorities in the US stated that the severity of swine flu in the UK was being deliberately downplayed by the UK authorities for economic reasons (the cost of swine flu to business during a recession being a concern) and if this is the case then it's disgraceful really to put money above human lives.

    I was also very concerned right at the start of this outbreak when travel to Mexico / US wasn't immediately restricted, and travellers from those areas were allowed back in this country to wander round unmonitored and with no restrictions whatsoever (e.g. go back to school without even a quarantine period). It's hardly surprising, then, to read now that there might be 20,000 cases here, but is very worrying.

    Anyway, Fergus, thank you again and please keep up the flow of information.

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  • 5. At 2:45pm on 06 Jun 2009, jodablco wrote:

    My guestimates based on existing information... Let us hope I am pessimistic and this does not continue as it has started or adversely mutate...

    Country....Deaths...Reported.....%'age
    USA..........27......13217......0.2043% (actual reported figures)

    Country....Population....%'age Infected........Deaths
    ..............................(if an epidemic)....(based on USA %'age)
    UK.........65,000,000.........15%..............19,917
    USA.......275,000,000........15%..............84,266
    EU........380,000,000.........15%..............116,441

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  • 6. At 3:07pm on 06 Jun 2009, lomoqueen wrote:

    I believe a lot more people have been infected than has been recognised or reported. I know of so many people that have had very bad colds or flu recently and it seems odd at this time of year. People are not coming forward to be tested unless they personally know someone who has been to Mexico or has already tested positive. What about all the other people that were unknowingly infected when they shared a bus or tube one of these people for example? Perhaps the government does not want to test everyone who has this round of swine flu - after all, it's relatively mild. Testing would be time consuming and expensive and use up valuable stocks of tamiflu when the government would rather save them for a more serious strain in winter.

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  • 7. At 09:19am on 07 Jun 2009, BarnabyDawson wrote:

    To Jodablco: Your estimate is problematic because it suffers the following major biases:

    1) Deaths lag infections. It takes time to die from the flu. As new cases grow exponentially most cases are in the early stages of infection and so the death rate from the raw figures will be an underestimate.

    2) More serious cases are more likely to be detected. This is most probably a smaller effect than (1) but will produce an overestimate of mortality rates.

    3) The death rate from a pandemic at its height will be higher than that at its inception (even if the virus has not evolved) as the health care system will be strained and will not be able to provide the same high quality health care as we are providing now.

    4) Most of the data comes from the developing world where the death rate will be substantially lower. When this hits the developing world the death rate will be higher.

    As such we can be fairly confident that the mortality estimate ought to be higher than 0.2% at this stage. The only peer reviewed study I know of puts the figure at 0.4% without adjusting for point (3).

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  • 8. At 1:32pm on 08 Jun 2009, jodablco wrote:

    To BarnabyDawson: I am fully aware of the nature of my guestimate... and was trying to be more optimistic than alarmist. I hope I set a moderate balance :-) In fact your suggestion is, sadly, closer to my own expectations.
    The main point is that IF swine flu continues as it has started it seems the media in the UK is failing in its duty to report and thereby exert pressure on government.
    I am surprised Fergus Walsh has not yet responded... even if only to give the (rather lame) official BBC view. (Sorry Fergus, not really intending to get at you because I suspect you have your own ummmm pressures from within the organization :-) )

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  • 9. At 1:46pm on 08 Jun 2009, oliverpbessell wrote:

    Jodablco and BarnabyDawson,

    While everyone is allowed to have an opinion I feel yours a slightly over the top for these reasons.

    1. When news of a Swine Flue pandemic hit, the BBC where actually the first ones to give estimates on how many people could potentially die and I can assure you they were actually alot higher then you two have suggested.
    2. The BBC are not downplaying the news in the slightest. The fact is when things develope they will move the story up the pecking order wheres at the moment they would just be repeating the same info over and over again. We are due to feel the full force in the next few months and when it strikes you can be assured that the BBC will be reporting the facts.
    3. The BBC read your posts before they put them on the website, so if you were giving us information that the BBC were trying to hide or play down, they wouldnt have posted them!

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