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Expert view on virus mutation

Fergus Walsh | 10:50 UK time, Thursday, 17 September 2009

I hope that last night's Panorama (which you can of course watch again) added to people's understanding of swine flu. I have no doubt that you will let me know what you think.

Dr Alan HayDr Alan Hay, director of the World Health Organization laboratory at Mill Hill in north London was one of the flu experts interviewed.

His is one of just four WHO influenza collaborating labs in the world and plays a key role in research.

He spoke about fears that the H1N1 virus might mutate and about antiviral resistance.

So far, there have just been isolated cases of Tamifllu resistance against H1N1 swine flu. Dr Hay said:

"The major problem in generating resistance is people start a course of Tamiflu and do not follow it rigorously during that period, such that the virus is exposed to a lower concentration of the drug that isn't as fully effective. That's when you get resistance emerging."

Like most experts he thinks there is a slim chance of H1N1 swine flu mixing with H5N1 bird flu to produce a more deadly strain of pandemic flu. A remote chance, but a chance nonetheless:

"There's a possibility that could happen, particularly in countries where human inflections of bird flu are continuing, for example Egypt. It's really the possibility that from that event might come a virus that might be similarly virulent to the bird flu virus but then has the capacity to establish and spread within the population. And that has been the fear of the last few years that has generated all this concerted action to prepare for a pandemic. And we are only now reaping the rewards of all that preparedness in the face of this pandemic."

You can see more of the interview with Dr Alan Hay done by my colleague Sophie Raworth:

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  • 1. At 12:26pm on 17 Sep 2009, U14138798 wrote:


    Once again you have delivered the facts about swine flu, as a new dad with a 14 mouth old girl you cannot help but worry about what you here and read about swine flu. You program last night was informative and provided me with a better understanding on H1N1 virus.

    After watching your program i have come to the conclusion that this could have been so much worse and we should be thankfull that it is as you have said for the vast majoirty a mild ilness. I understand that this could mutant into somthing more but the same could be said for the seasonal flu that comes round each year, and when you read about things in the news like three generations being killed in a car accident i think at this stage there are far more things out their that i could be affected by...

    Keep up the good work fergus and it is nice to see that the news service can deliver an honest and level headed approach to stories like this..

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  • 2. At 3:00pm on 17 Sep 2009, SkylineOnFire wrote:

    The whole vibe of last nights program, of this article, its just so negative. Fergus when will you address the fact Australia usually has 3000 deaths a year, but had only 160 or so this year from "swine flu". You have addressed every negative point again and again, but never something like that. And thats not speculation like your interviews, its facts. Numbers and facts.

    Oh sorry, i forgot silly me! Good news doesnt bring in ratings does it! So much for fair and balanced reporting from the BBC. Remember who you work for, the people. This isnt a private company, and should give nothing but informative information from both sides of the camp no matter what subject, not this bias reporting towards doomsday scenarios ive been reading and seeing constantly.

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  • 3. At 3:32pm on 17 Sep 2009, b wrote:

    skylineonfire -

    If you dont like what Fergus is writing, why do you keep on reading and commenting?

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  • 4. At 3:59pm on 17 Sep 2009, Jen wrote:

    Well done Fergus! Another report stressing how lucky we are the worst imaginable is highly unlikely if not impossible to occur. I was also interested in the doctor's comments about Tamiflu resistance. Sadly this is the case with all antibiotics.

    When will people learn that they are just making matters worse by causing the evolution of bugs into something that may be unstoppable by their attitude? Is it an attitude of 'right, I'm feeling better, I'll save the rest just in case' or 'Damn I forgot to take it - never mind, I'm fine now' or even 'I'm not taking these anymore they make me feel terrible'. It took a long time for my husband to realise the implications of not finishing a course of antibiotics.

    I suppose it could be a combination of all three, but there really will become a time when even the superbugs mutate into something so nasty everyone will be wishing that they had shut the stable door before the horse bolted?

    TB has mutated into a kind of super TB, and I know that if my doc says I need antibiotics I always ask for something other than Amoxycillin as they haven't worked for me and mine for the last 6 years. I'd rather take one course of antibiotics than two, hence why I ask.

    Maybe some health info advert needs to be put out so people really understand the trouble they cause by not finishing the course. I would hate to be watching a loved one die because there isn't an antibiotic in existence to kill the bug.

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  • 5. At 4:03pm on 17 Sep 2009, angelscomeinthrees wrote:

    I agree with you Skyline. Surely there is a theoretical risk of sf mutating and combining with avian flu, which is not the same thing as a slim chance? Apart from the clips on here, which I think are quite glum compared to what I'm hearing from people working in the health service, the only part of the programme that I saw was when my dh flicked over during a boring bit of the footie, and Sophie Raworth was having a swab for swine flu. I was only half paying attention as I had my nose in a Trinny and Susannah book (a cultural evening chez Angel) but from what I gathered it turned out that she had a chest infection, which was presented as 'good news for Sophie'. Did I get that right? I mean, why is a chest infection better news than swine flu, except in the sense that sf can be passed on? I agree that everythng I saw was designed to be good telly rather than presenting the facts. And when I was a kid Panorama assumed a far higher degree of intelligence and attention span on the part of its viewers. This isn't against you, Fergus, treating us like we're slightly dim teenagers seems endemic in the BBC.

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  • 6. At 4:25pm on 17 Sep 2009, GillieBollie wrote:

    I watched the programme last night with my son. I have to say that I thought the 'lucky Sophie' comment to be crass in the extreme - a chest infection with a temp of 39 is far more serious than sf. Overall I thought the programme was okay but as skyline says, tell us the good news as well. When the woman who went to Sweden was on and the gist was we don't have enough machines in the UK, I was thinking, well the NHS found her a machine, she's still alive and her unborm baby is okay so really this was a success story. I guess the bbc are concerned that if they tell us the good news and then things prove to be worse than expected in the UK this winter then they lose all their credibility. All I want is proper balanced reporting so I can make up my own mind.

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  • 7. At 4:43pm on 17 Sep 2009, angelscomeinthrees wrote:

    It was 'lucky Sophie', was it? Oh dear, that sounds worse.

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  • 8. At 7:43pm on 17 Sep 2009, SkylineOnFire wrote:

    Barrybrad? Why should i stop? im for fair reporting of all situations. If you dont like my opinion dont post.

    You should have an issue with the BBC putting out a programme that mentions every negative aspect of SF in Australia, without once mentioning the positives. I.E nobody is dying from it in comparison to seasonal flu, its crazy. So little mortality considering the sheer amount of cases, but we never read this, it doesnt make for good headlines.

    Look at the daily fail's latest headline, brilliant.

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  • 9. At 8:16pm on 17 Sep 2009, Rev-Owl wrote:

    I would disagree with the majority of comments up to now declaring the Panorama on swine flu as doom mongering. If anything I found it informative but not really saying much I haven't already heard.
    I think the most shocking thing was the fact that there are only 5 adult ecmo machines in the UK.
    Thanks for the blog Fergus very worthwhile.
    Influenza despite the flamers raging about the big fuss about nothing remains a very dangerous condition and H1N1 has not efficiently transmitted from human to human since 1918. Therefore the potential of this pandemic was and still is worth making a fuss about due to the total unpredictability of this virus.

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  • 10. At 8:32pm on 17 Sep 2009, Tinkerbellbobby wrote:

    I must admit I haven't watched the programme yet,(recorded) will wait till my day off. I dont want to watch it in the evening, as I'll only go to bed worrying. lol

    I would be interested to hear from Fergus re Sky lines comment.

    It looks like the numbers are going up then, and will probably keep doing so.

    The resistant strains - if they are resistant to Tamiflu, would this automatically make them resistant to relenza also? Are the two drugs very different or is it only the way they are administered?

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  • 11. At 9:02pm on 17 Sep 2009, SkylineOnFire wrote:

    Different drugs tinkerbell. Tamiflu resistance wouldnt affect relenza and vice versa.

    Do not worry about tamiflu resistance yet anyway, its not spreading, isolated cases. In 5-10 years time we will have a drug thats impossible for a virus to gain resistance against, so that should be pretty useful. Nobody seems to address my point that 160 people died in Auz, when an average season kills 3000. I wonder why!! Oh yeah... People like to be scared, basic psychology 101. Silly me.

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  • 12. At 5:20pm on 21 Jul 2010, U14560326 wrote:

    This comment was removed because the moderators found it broke the House Rules.

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