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Swine flu coverage

Mary Hockaday Mary Hockaday | 17:45 UK time, Wednesday, 29 April 2009

This week, one story has been prominent in our output: swine flu. It's a story which has involved our reporters in Mexico, the US, Europe, Scotland and the rest of the UK, plus our medical and science specialists. And it has challenged us to think hard about our public service role on this kind of news story.

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Essentially, our task is to give you the facts; to tell you what we know, but also explore what isn't known; to give you the best scientific and medical information and to inform but not to alarm. There is a great deal of coverage in all the media which has led to a debate about whether the threat is being overplayed. With any public health story, there's a risk that raising awareness can raise concern. We have sought at every step to report the science soberly and responsibly, with due weight given to the uncertainty of what will happen.

We know that audiences have many questions. For the first couple of days, the comments and questions were coming in thick and fast, though they have now slowed. The majority has been from the UK, but there are considerable numbers from Europe and the US too.

Yesterday, BBC Radio 5 Live did a phone-in, taking listeners' questions about the outbreak's impact and attempting to answer them using medical and travel experts. Those contacting the network had a range of questions: "My son's an hour and a half from Mexico City - how exposed is he?" "Are anti-viral drugs safe for pregnant women?" "I'm booked to go to Mexico on 30 April; the airline won't let us cancel and get a refund, what are our options?"

To satisfy those members of our audience who've been contacting our programmes and website with questions, we put together a comprehensive Q&A. In our current Have Your Say debate on the subject, many contributors have now said they believe that the government and media are over-reacting. And World Have Your Say - the World Service global discussion programme - was presented from the rooftop of a hotel in Mexico City yesterday. It asked its audience if the world was over-reacting to swine flu. We heard from many, including Abdullah in Abuja who e-mailed to say that there really was no comparison between swine flu and the kind of diseases many African nations deal with on a daily basis.

There are voices raising important questions about media coverage of this virus. Ben Goldacre - a medical doctor who writes the Bad Science blog - says that he's been struck by the number of people contacting him to say "Is swine flu just nonsense?" and that the media is "utterly" mistrusted on its reporting of health issues. Simon Jenkins, writing today in the Guardian, has said the media has whipped up a panic in order to posture and spend.

So far, the balance we have been trying to achieve is to report what we know and, critically, what isn't known, using the science available - for instance from the Chief Medical Officer for England, Sir Liam Donaldson and the World Health Organization - as well as what respected scientists are telling us about the possible pattern of this illness. At our editorial meetings, we have been regularly discussing how to get the approach, tone and use of pictures right, and to make sure that we offer our expertise and subject depth via our website.

Interestingly, the signs so far suggest that the public is not panicking - listeners contacting BBC Radio 1's Newsbeat are showing a distinct shift in opinion. Two days ago, they were expressing serious concern, but now - for many - it's receding: "Swine Flu has changed what I'm doing. I yawned at the last radio update. I'd probably not have done that if Swine Flu wasn't mentioned."

This virus - and this story - may fade away, or it may grow. At this point, as our correspondents are saying, we simply don't know. I hope that our reporting in the past few days will help you make sense of what emerges in the next few days, whichever way it develops.

Mary Hockaday is head of the multimedia newsroom


  • Comment number 1.

    I have never been inclined to comment on any news item before tonight (I am a massive fan of your Being Human series..hence the name) but I just had to comment on your first item tonight, Swine Fever...the family you showed us....come on, surely, no immediate threat to them, just a classic example of people willng/wishing to jump on the news bandwagon. Whilst I would never minimise the threat of swine fever, I watch BBB news to be informed....please don't do a 'red-top tabloid on me.

  • Comment number 2.

    Why is it sometimes called swine fever yet mainly referred to as swine flu?

    And yes, there is a fine line to be drawn between alerting the general public to the potential danger and encouraging panic. A very difficult subject for a PSB.

  • Comment number 3.

    Until deaths attributed to swine fever in any country exceed the expected toll of road fatalities, extensive coverage (particularly of the risks within the UK) is ridiculous.

    I'm almost delighted that the majority here seem to have rejected your pandering to the hysterical.

    Please stop trying to 'make' the news rather than reflecting the reality of what's actually going on?

  • Comment number 4.

    I am dismayed by the recent coverage on this. All flu has a mortality rate, usually 1%. The mortality rate of this is not known yet but the BBC seems intent on only reporting the aspects of this that make for headlines and is hardly tempering this with the troublesome facts that make this a lot less dramatic. This currently has very little to do with PSB and a lot with trying to grab headlines and viewers.

  • Comment number 5.

    What are people buying and what has the Govenment got for us from some pharmaceutical company Tamiflu from Roche which was which was sold to that company by another company that used to have at its head Donald Rumsfeld I read this last year when it was bird flu next year lamb chop flu by shares in rubber gloves, face masks,and Tamiflu. How many people die each day from malaria? about 3,000 give or take a few how many from pig/bird/ human flu in a week. There is something else behind this than this flu most people in this country in the last few months has had flu and we know what to do the first child who was named and shamed for being the first victim lives in poverty and has a huge pig farm for a play ground with huge lacks of pig filth the streets of London used to be like that thank God for the fire. Its to see how we can be controlled and made to fear the state we want freedom well we must give it up to the state. No one is heard talking about germ warfare we still have it or do did we give Portan Down to the USA. Most people look to what the Govenment does not says now as it can not be trusted.

  • Comment number 6.

    cover this story, and do it well. Watching the 6 O’clock news, I have to say the presentation report by your medical correspondent (I think Fergus Walsh or so), was very well done. Giving clear advice, reassuring tone, and most definitely not to 'panicky'.

    Number 4. I totally disagree with your view. That the BBC "intent on only reporting the aspects of this that make for headlines". If like me you watched the news reports, as with the report I mentioned above, the correspondents frequently mention that very little have died, a priority figure, and as well as the comparisons made with seasonal flu death. You may be cynical about the BBC reporting, but I see it informative, interesting, and responsible.

  • Comment number 7.

    The real danger from swine flu is in the disruption to daily life, this has not been fully explored or explained. A school has closed in Paignton as a precaution. Consider the impact of this one event - Parents will have to take time off work and/or arrange childcare, Anti Social behaviour may increase with hundreds of young people without positive activities to undertake.

    The potential consequences of a pandemic are not purely the medical consequences, the economic impact alone could significantly exacerbate the effects of the current recession. Disruption to public services, transport, food distribution, access to money, power generation, water supplies, processing of state benefits etc etc. All of these processes and functions we take for granted and they all involve people going to work. This is the real danger posed by a potential pandemic, particularly to a society that relies so heavily on goods and services. We as a country have become so reliant upon others for almost everything we need and the failure of this infrastructure is what the government fear the most.

  • Comment number 8.

    I'm fairly happy with what the BBC is saying, but less happy with the sheer amount of airtime devoted to this. The net effect is that you are reassuring people with the former, but implicitly alarming them with the latter.

    Thankfully you're not half as bad as the tabloid broadcasters like Sky and ITV.

  • Comment number 9.

    why wait to see if there are going to be any deaths surely if it can be caught early, then why not treat those who want to be treated, i have a relative in yr 7 at paignton community college and a child of my own at the school, only all year 7 pupils are being treated, i rang my doctors and was told i could'nt go there nor a doctor visit the home and to ring nhs direct, they didnt have a clue at first on what to do, they rang me back and i was advised to get intouch with my gp, talk about pass the butt i feel as a parent with young children that as a precaution if i wish to protect my family against this then i should by rights be able to not wait and see if any other syptoms occure, after i pay national insurance. my children are terrified as we know jerms, children spread like wild fire.

  • Comment number 10.

    It is at times like this that the media learn a hard lesson about their tendency to exaggerate almost anything that is game even when it isn't especially newsworthy. Who knows or cares if swine 'flu virus is particularly virulent or the same as any other influenza? Viruses spread - that is how they survive - and our cramped conditions, workaholic and free travelling lifestyles helps them along.

    The pharmaceuticals make a tidy sum (any which way) and some medics somewhere will get their fifteen minutes. The news media get a story which will run for a week or more and our politicians can crow about contingency arrangements. Schools will close for about two weeks if an infection is identified, and we will be left wondering about those who contract the illness but do not even bother to report it because they do not know what they have. In the meantime the placebo affect will have its way with many others.

    As for those that remain sane it will be a few weeks or even months before the rest of the world catches up. Headline? "The day a little sneeze became a big yawn."

  • Comment number 11.

    It is at times like this, when the media is really needed, that its shortcomings are most obvious.
    How do we know what is complete and factually correct, slanted, politically motivated , overblown to fill pages or perhaps dramatised to make headlines?
    We will probably find out during page-filling arguments six months or so after it is all over.

  • Comment number 12.

    I am afraid the news coverage is way over the top and appears to be masking some other important agenda items namely

    - US torture, the fact that Minders were used to prompt the victims to confess the right stories, Cheney claiming torture yielded useful results (which is patently false if there were Minders there) and what the hell is he doing wading into the argument anyway!?

    - G20 policing, terrorism trials

    - The Credit Crunch Budget and its realism (or rather lack of it)

    - MP Expenses

    - Wars in Sri Lanka, "AFPAK" etc

    While the flu pandemic may be important... as one of your news readers put it. There is nothing we can actually do at the moment. If there is, you would have told us, right?

  • Comment number 13.

    This comment was removed because the moderators found it broke the house rules. Explain.

  • Comment number 14.


    The BBC coverage on the story regarding the SWINE FLU has been so far very accurate and not putting undue stress on the international community....

    ~Dennis Junior~

  • Comment number 15.

    Given the broadcast media's need to fill the 24x7 news void, even (often) with rubbish, is the general public's scepticism surprising?

    Perhaps you need to fill some airtime by explaining the risk context.

    ‘Yes, the absolute risk on this occasion is probably small, but one of these days something will hit where the risk is massive and the consequences for the world potentially much more serious than you can imagine. Therefore we need to be ultra-vigilant and if that involves crying wolf sometimes, so be it.’

  • Comment number 16.

    There seems to be general issue here about how you report 'risk'

    One day there will be a 1917 style pandemic and literally millions will die. This may or may not be it. The authorities need to act early - if it is the pandemic then this is first time in history we could actually do anything about it. Personally, I think trying to save a few million lives is a good idea.

    How do responsible news organisations get this across to ordinary people who aren't doctors/statisticians etc? - Without over doing it and starting a panic. (I don't know how you could report it to people who think it's all a plot by Dick Cheney)

    Should it be item one? Does that give it a status it does not deserve (at this time)? Could you calm it down by giving the facts/advice without the need for ten minutes of on the spot reporters interviewing some holidaymaker with the sniffles through a closed window? Cut it down to one item on the news not THE item. Just some ideas.

  • Comment number 17.

    Swine flu has been gene-spliced scientist's say. Mutation might occur naturally but not gene splicing!

    In 2001, there was an expedition to the artic to locate bodies affected
    with the 1918 flu virus. That expedition revealed that the pandemic was caused by swine flu.

    In 2003, the influenza gene was on the verge of being decoded "Sequencing of the genome of the 1918 Spanish influenza virus is nearly complete" and the authors warned of nefarious use of the virus.

    "An influenza virus—especially one genetically manipulated for increased
    virulence—would be an attractive weapon for bioterrorists"

  • Comment number 18.

    I can understand (although not approve) of the general scaremongering amongst tabloids and commercial news channels. Unfortunatley, they require sensationalism to sell their stories and gain viewers.

    I don't see why the BBC has to join in the media frenzy for that reason. There are no advertisers to please or sales to present, a full coverage of daily news is what I require and pay for, not a single story.

  • Comment number 19.


    The difference in mortalities in epidemic and in pandemic influenza is a factor of ten. Epidemic influenza regularly "accelerates" the deaths of many hundreds of thousands of people every year. The viral mutations make it difficult to control or inhibit. Anti-viral drugs have not been tested for effectiveness across large populations where mortality may be expected to be high. It is almost impossible to give accurate figures for the number of deaths wholly caused by the virus as compared to deaths assisted by the virus.

    Influenza spreads very quickly and easily. Even with a double handed protective cup against a sneeze the viral aerosol is sufficient to reach ten or maybe twenty people on a closely packed bus, coach, train or aircraft. All of these people will carry the virus and some will suffer the symptoms of illness at varying levels. One or two may become quite ill, whilst others may experience a day or so of discomfit. Some will experience no illness at all apart from sneezes or coughs which spread the attack still further. Deaths may occur with very young children or infirm elderly from complications e.g. pneumonia.

    The genetic manipulation of viruses similar in activity to influenza is a potent way to disable population groups and cause high numbers of deaths. It is almost impossible to secure against influenza even through vaccination.

  • Comment number 20.

    For Abdullah in Abuja:

    1. There are vaccines and treatments for almost everything that afflicts Africa. There are vaccines for meningitis, cholera and malaria; there are mitigating therapies for HIV disease. There are cheap water filters in the world that would make cholera non-existent.

    What there is no known treatment for is the corruption of African leaders, bureaucrats and middlemen who make fortunes for themselves out of every aid effort organised from outside Africa. It is up to the diverse populations of Africa to do what has been done by other populations that have known great misery & affliction: organise themselves to get rid of the worst corrupt elements and install reasonably functional people in positions of authority. This has already been demonstrated to bring some relief in countries such as Brazil, Russia, India, and China, not to mention Pakistan or Indonesia. The number of suffering regions in the world is indeed great, but only diligent effort by sufferers themselves actually leads to effective improvements in local, regional and national governance. History proves there are no short-cuts to this process.

    2. The problem with the H1N1 alarm has to do in part with the possibility that in Mexico a second and potentially even a third set of factors complicate health security. The very nature of this puzzle becomes a compelling driver for unraveling the knots in the story, so that we can not only deal with the problem, but also understand more and prepare better for a potentially fraught future.

    3. For as long as Africans look to the affluent societies for assistance, they will need to accept that threats to the richer countries also imply worsening conditions in Africa. Please understand that most people in the US are in fact living hand-to-mouth, day-to-day; there are plenty of Americans whose life circumstances are no different from average wage-earning Africans', and these people are indeed at risk: the 2%-5% of Americans (I am only using US as an example because it is next door to Mexico & essentially there is an open border between the two countries) who are indeed so wealthy they appear to be invincible to others (and of course they are anything but) represent a tiny minority living in a cocoon. It is wrong of people in Africa to lump other kinds of people into a single pot of "the rich we are entitled to resent", just as it is wrong for people in prosperous countries to dismiss this looming pandemic as "a problem for the low-caste people who don't really matter much and so what."

    4. Every serious health crisis humans face, including all the problems complicating life for Africans, links back to a problem with population. Reckless procreation (and no, I do not mean accidental pregnancies that befall very young people out of naivete, but rather the deliberate intention, through marriage and polygamy and conscious promiscuity by African males) to beget as many souls as possible exacerbates all problems.

    When in times of famine grown people insist on conceiving new children only to watch them die in agony, over and over again, the chance of finding effective solutions for the diseases that plague malnourished and immunity-depressed populations withers on the vine.

    Any married person knows that it is not necessary even to have available contraceptive devices, instructions, medicines or treatments to regulate the frequency of children being conceived. All that is really required to have a reasonable number of offspring (and for some people 'reasonable' might mean Zero) is common sense, a little reason, a good heart and some self-control. There are many ways to be close and happy together that do not involve creating new people or risking infections.

    5. Every nation and even every family that has ever advanced in life has done so because it exerted great effort, even in the face of dreadful odds. Japan overcame the horrors of Hiroshima & Nagasaki. The list of other awful tragedies is long, and you know it. When people stop making excuses and blaming others, and get busy working out what they do indeed personally control that they can through personal dedication change, suddenly everything becomes a lot easier to accomplish.

  • Comment number 21.

    I want to register my appreciation for the way your science editor has presented his segments in your news coverage. He seems a lone voice of calm, presenting useful facts in a clear manner that actually helps the public. What a contrast to the rest of the output with the giant graphics of viruses, endlessly repeated pictures of face mask wearing travellers, endless use of buzz words, (phase 5, global pandemic, H1N1 etc); that feeds the fear and boosts your audience.

    This isn't bubonic plague or ebola, it's flu! We have effective treatment and well developed plans. It shouldn't be ignored, but the key advice is being swamped by your obsession with exploring the unknown.

    Like it or not, your reporting inFLUences behaviour. Please make sure the facts are given due prominence, and the official advice is highlighted.

  • Comment number 22.

    I think your many cynical callers are right to have been so.

    Another dimension is that of pharmaceutical companies promotional
    activities. Anti viral drug stocks only sell when they are
    used or when bought by health organisations oftimes only to lie in their stocks unused until out of date and eventually thrown in the bin at cost to the public purse. A pandemic scare is a great sales advert for the manufacturers of drugs just as a war provides sales opportunity for arms manufacturers.

    Big business corrupts governments and rules the world I am afraid.

  • Comment number 23.

    The Scottish Government is setting up a helpline immediately
    The so called UK government is not planning one until the autumn.
    Thank goodness the NHS in Scotland is controlled by the Scottish Government and Nicola Sturgeon is our Health Secretary

  • Comment number 24.

    Did we not pass this way with Bird Flu?

    Rolling news continually sneezes all day over everybody's TV screens the editors' hope against hope it is going to be a pandemic.

    I would have thought a mention tailing the news would be sufficient with more details in the six o'clock.

    Again, time filling comes first. The monster must be fed.

  • Comment number 25.

    Conspiracy to commit murder or complicity in murder or silent consent to murder, pick your own cross to bear.

    Mom look, they're spreading fear again! Do tell, for how long will deeply uninformed 'Main Street' suffer because of irresponsibility of the mainstream media?

    Freedom of speech and expression
    Freedom of religion
    Freedom from want
    Freedom from fear

    We're a bit scarce on those basic freedoms these days, eh?

    How can people know what's wrong with the reporting if they don't have a full picture?

    Here's a picture worth thousands of words.

    It is pretty blunt message, for anyone to see. Wouldn't point it out, but altogether, things mentioned or not, it has really become.., pathetic to watch.

    Well BBC, a child died, pray tell, when the damage control turns into damage done?

  • Comment number 26.

    We are required to be vigilant enough with proper updates at this stage to prevent spread of the virus.All swine flu information on the web can be obtained through a tracklet at

  • Comment number 27.

    Why don't we have more reporting along these lines?

    "Let's not lose track of the fact that the normal seasonal influenza is a huge public-health problem that kills tens of thousands of people in the U.S. alone and hundreds of thousands around the world," said Dr. Christopher Olsen, a molecular virologist who studies swine flu at the University of Wisconsin School of Veterinary Medicine in Madison.

  • Comment number 28.

    The kind of reporting we have seen so far will cause ir"Rasher"nal panic and is indicative of the news media "Scratching" around to fill the hours. The situation most sites are describing better suit the kind of scenarios that a Hollywood director like Michael "Bay Can" make a movie out of. There is plenty going on out there, Swine flu doesn't need to "Hog" the lime light...

  • Comment number 29.

    Is it true what I have been hearing that those infected by swine flu are comming out in rashers?

  • Comment number 30.

    I think that overall the BBC reporting on H1N1 has been fairly accurate and not too sensationalist BUT with some exceptions.
    In the early hours of this morning I watched a piece from Devon. I was tired and can't remember the exact wording but it went along the lines of;

    "outside this quiet school..... girl..... struck down by a mutant bug from another continent...."

    Sounds like a DVD promo, maybe a touch sensationalist when we are supposed to be keeping people calm? :-)

  • Comment number 31.

    The problem with rolling news is that it takes the telescope which should be looking out for stories like Craig Murray on the horizon, turns it around, and uses it as a microscope to magnify out of all proportion stories which have already hit the headlines.

    Isn't Craig Murray's evidence just as newsworthy, in its own way ??

    Especially as the Government tried its damnedest to cover it up by not allowing him to speak. Democracy and free speech - use it, or lose it...

  • Comment number 32.

    Swine Flu? Another over reaction by the BBC? Just how many cases are there througout the world? 250-300? Lets just keep this all in perspective. Comparitively, there's not many more cases this week to what there was last week, yet they say it could spread quickly. Bog standard flu very rarely gets any airtime, yet that kills thousands worldwide every year. Please stop this scare mongering and stick to the facts.

  • Comment number 33.

    Any panic has been caused by the WHO who have not made it clear enough that this is only a new strain of flu. The word pandemic has been associated with killer viruses like SARS which was a killer for most of those who contacted it so to spread fear on the basis of such scant information was questionable.

    The virus must have entered this country before the publicity so many could have already contracted it thinking it was an ordinary flu virus. They have obviously recovered or we would have known about it.

    In the main it is not the public who have panicked it is the WHO who seem to have been waiting for something to happen and indeed justify their existance and predictions.

    Let's hope that if something worse comes along in the future they will not have jeopodised their credibility whereby no-one takes any notice of them.

  • Comment number 34.

    The fuss being made over "swine flue" seems to be disproportionate, but hasn't it come along at a convenient time for world leaders, what a marvellous distraction to blind people to the recession?

  • Comment number 35.

    256 cases of Swine Flu world wide as stated on the news today (30th of April at 8pm. My question is:

    How many "confirmed" cases of Malaria are there this minute around the world?
    How many "confirmed" (and unconfirmed) cases of HIV?

    To me it seems like a very, very distorted perspective, even if (and only if) the Swine Flu might spread easier than HIV and to more (richer) parts of the world than Malaria...
    As far as I can tell from the news, both Malaria and HIV are deadlier (if not medicated) than the Swine Flu?

  • Comment number 36.

    Could Fergus Walsh possibly put this whole thing in perspective? My wife is from Mexico - the news from there is more people are going to suffer from starvation and economic hardship as the economy nosedives thanks to everything shutting down. Is Fergus Walsh going to report on the number of people who's health has been worsened as a direct result of massive media exaggeration???? I'll bet you get way over the 250 mark

    Also could someone explain how Mexicans in Cancun or the tourist resorts don't seem to have this, but so many foreign tourists returning from places like Cancun seem to be contracting this virus? To put this in perspective it is about as far to travel from Mexico City to Cancun as it is to travel from London to Turkey so not sure how these things link up.

  • Comment number 37.

    The BBC's reporting of swine flu has struck me as surprisingly measured, which surprises me, because Ben Goldacre is absolutely right - the media has become so ready to exaggerate, over-dramatise and wax hyperbolic on health topics (particularly those relating to public health and those such as obesity, drinking, smoking, STDs and anything else with a 'moral' component) that any trust the public once had is rapidly ebbing away.

    Of course this is partly an effect of the move toward the generation of constant drama and fear by the public health industry itself. One day the headlines shriek about how bacon has been 'found' to cause cancer, the next some talking head is claiming that a BMI of 25 is no longer good enough, and every conceivable convenience of modern life has some kind of potential health drawback. Meanwhile health concerns are no longer expressed in terms of their potential real-life impact on ordinary people but in apocalyptic prose such as 'worse than terrorism' or 'a bigger threat than climate change' or 'the potential to destroy the NHS'.

    Whilst even formerly reputable organisations such as the BMA and WHO are busy trying to grab a slice of the action, the vast majority of these sort of stories still seem to emerge from hitherto unheard-of 'think tanks' and 'research centres' such as this week's predictable round of fat-bashing from the world-reknowned 'London School of hygiene and Tropical Medicine', desperate for notoriety, a research grant and fifteen minutes of fame.

    Where the BBC has a part to play is in being more discriminating about which of these claims it decides to publish and how prominently they feature on the site. Anyone can set themselves up as a 'researcher' and put out a press release nowadays, and hence the currency of the 'expert' has been hugely devalued. Just Google MeMe Roth whose grandly-titled 'National Action Against Obesity' is run from a back bedroom, and yet the American media fawn over her as though she really is the 'president' of this hugely influential organisation.

    The BBC is probably unique in that it can afford to employ people in its health department who actually have some knowledge of the issues under discussion rather than relying on press releases paraphrased by overworked journalists. And yet I trust its health output about as far as that of the Daily Mail, with which the top stories are frequently (and disconcertingly) interchangeable.

  • Comment number 38.

    Why don't airlines sterilize the on board air with Ozone?
    I started to sterilize the rooms and bedding in our guest house, with ozone after the sars outbreak. It is the method most suited and capable of sterilizing items such as soft furnishing and bedding. It is inexpensive and 100% effective in killing germs, viruses and mold, just to name a few

  • Comment number 39.

    'Hurrah' for the general media over-the-top, scaremongering approach...just in order to make flashy news! The most common symptoms of this strain are not fully known, yet apparently it seems that our heads will explode and budgies will fly out of our aching ringpieces in thei thousands, whilst singing the Bulgarian National Anthem! IF it does become a pandemic and the sympotms are has been found to date in teh British 'cases', then will have a pandemic where people have a "wickle sore tummy-wummy and a beet of a sore fwote!". Get a grip...! It's not like a blonde, stirring, lying,parasitic pseudo-royal has been bumped off....!

  • Comment number 40.

    This comment was removed because the moderators found it broke the house rules. Explain.

  • Comment number 41.

    The WHO have history in claiming that the world faces pandemics, be it HIV, Avian flu and now Swine Fever, this organisations figures have been proven time and again to be woefully inflated the best example is their prediction of 100+ million deaths from Avain flu, the final result was less than 1,000.

    I am not an expert, however, when organisations such as the WHO repeatedly over-inflate the risks, then I become cynical, as it seems do most of the posters to this blog.

    As for the BBC reporting on this swine flu outbreak, it has been thus far reasonable, keep up the good work.

  • Comment number 42.

    @37 & 41

    I am a little confused about the attacks on WHO information which reaches us via the media NOT directly from the Organisation itself. Any spin is applied (censored, edited etc) before it is released to us, not only afterwards. If one wishes to compare and contrast media manipulation of data released by WHO then inquire as to why the media have perpetuated "passive smoking" myths when WHO are amongst the few who say "(passive smoking) does not exist as a measurable risk". When, however, requested to estimate the risk of a particularly unpleasant influenza strain (e.g. avian 'flu) what the WHO actually said is that "if the virus mutates the ability to jump person to person" we face a potentially high mortality rate, possibly in hundreds of millions". That was accurate science reported by most media inaccurately.

    The problem with Type A influenza is that, in common with almost any infection, it is deaths that make news first, not the numbers who contract the virus and recover. If just one person survives a 'flu (epi- or pandemic) attack then we have the anti-bodies and potential survival. In the case of Type A for all we know there are millions of Mexicans (etc) who have recovered and survived without the use of Tamiflu or any other anti-viral medicine. Healthy people can withstand virus attacks in 99.999% of cases.

    So please do not enter into a argument about responsible journalism, irresponsible WHO. No such animal as responsible journalism is alive and kicking in the west at the present time. Even the BBC is in a competition to be "best" and that is sad.

  • Comment number 43.

    "So far, the balance we have been trying to achieve is to report what we know and, critically, what isn't known..."

    which, presumably, is why on BBC News 24 (10am) THE headline is about a Scottish man who may, or may not, be infected. wow, impressive!!

  • Comment number 44.

    This comment was removed because the moderators found it broke the house rules. Explain.

  • Comment number 45.

    Last night, the presenter on the second part of the Six O'clock News Hour (Joanna Gosling?) conducted a discussion with someone about swine flu which took so long that E24 started at around 6.38pm instead of the usual time.

    The subsequent "Sportsday" programme, shortened as a consequence, featured no mention of the tennis in Rome (where Novak Djokovic preserved his world number three position for another day).

    Was there any real need for the original discussion in the first place?

  • Comment number 46.

    It is not the fault of the WHO, but of the media (who, incidentally, are making a lot of money out of all of this) for the fear mongering.

    The WHO simply puts out practical advice and assistance, erring on the side of caution, but still entirely factual. It is media organisations which have now (as with past scares) twist their warnings to develop a climate of fear and panic so indusive of newspaper sales.

    In times gone past we could rely on the BBC to be the voice of reason, not having the same commercial desires as others, but now with it's new emphasis on chasing ratings (for no particular reason other than self-gratification), I fear this is proving to no longer be the case.

  • Comment number 47.

    Why has the 10.45am sports bulletin just now been delayed by seven minutes?

    Because Carrie Gracie has to have a chat about swine flu.

  • Comment number 48.

    What is the Cause of swine flue 2009? is it from spanish flue 1918 victim frozen samples?

    in wikipedia I did read"Scientists have used tissue samples from frozen victims to reproduce the virus for study. Given the strain's extreme virulence there has been controversy regarding the wisdom of such research"


  • Comment number 49.

    Paint the scene -

    I have been in bed for four days with influenza, with type A similarities. I have had it before and this dose is no different - headaches, sore throats, chesty cough, aching muscles, loss of appetite and a high temperature. That usually happens when my body is fighting infection.

    I have 'phoned NHS Direct but, as I have not (as far as I know) been in contact with anyone from Mexico, I am not in the target group. My GP's surgery would not want to see me (expectant mums wouldn't either). So I wait to recover. Already I feel I am getting better, and in a few days I will be fine.

    So what 'flu strain have I contracted? I don't know and neither do the health authorities. And yet I am recovering without any Tamiflu or proprietary medicines, just some chicken soup when I feel like it.

    I can retrace my steps. Last week I dealt with someone at work who had been on holiday in the Dominican Republic - close but not close enough (apparently). On my way home from work in a crowded space some guy sneezed in my direction. Was he Mexican? No, he didn't look like it. Had he been to Mexico? How would I know and I am not about to enter into a conversation with a perfect stranger by asking him "have you been in Mexico recently" and cause a mass panic in a very iffy place by getting the answer "Yes"!!! Better to have a chance with an illness than be trampled to death.

    I sometimes wonder how we would cope with something really serious and really scary. A plague; an asteroid due to impact on Earth in a few hours or so; the threat of a nuclear war; the threat of any kind of terrorist attack; an earthquake; a tsunami. The list is long. Better not have a journalist anywhere near you at the time, huh?

  • Comment number 50.

    I refer to an article in NATURE magazine:

    Shows that 1918 Spanish flu (aka Swine Flu) has been genetically sequenced and "a recipe for disaster" and it goes on to say "its production by rogue scientists is now a real possibility." This outbreak has had its genetic code compared to the 1918 variant which was considered "extinct" - except in laboratories.

    As you know, the Anthrax attacks in 2001 were tracked down to US Military Labs because the spores had been "weaponised" - the spores could be tracked down to specific laboratories, just like the marks left on a bullet can be tracked to a gun! So such attacks have been done before!

    Considering the number of people that want to make trouble in the world, shouldn't we at least take in and investigate the possibility of this being an attack from terrorists or rogue scientists?

  • Comment number 51.

    I listened to your morning report on the scare mongering in the swine flu near pandemic. If you substituted for Swine Flu, the terms Global Warming or Climate Control you would understand how some of us in the real world view the scare mongering thats been playing out in the Media for the past several years. But, there is a difference in your (and the Media in general) reporting on these two issues. There are advocates on both sides of the divide in both theories, however, in the Global Warming theory, only the zealots, the non-deniers get a voice, and theyre scaring the daylights out of many (particularly gullible children) exposed to their exaggerations.

    The irony here is striking, yet you seem to fail to notice. Please make more of an effort to be as balanced in reporting on GW as you are on Swine Flu. I might even start believing the Media when it speaks on critical issues.

    George Goeke

  • Comment number 52.

    A couple of minor corrections of 50 above. (Let's not get this on top the topic of global warming!)

    I refer to an article in NATURE magazine:

    Shows that 1918 Spanish flu (aka Swine Flu) has been genetically sequenced and "a recipe for disaster" and it goes on to say "its production by rogue scientists is now a real possibility." This latest outbreak has had its genetic code compared to the 1918 variant which was considered "extinct" - except in laboratories. Some reports stated that the genes of the 1918 swine flu had been spliced with avian and two strands of human flu. Virus gene splicing is an advanced technique but perfectly possible. Routine even!

    As you know, the Anthrax attacks in 2001 were tracked down to US Military Labs because the spores had been "weaponised" - the spores could be tracked down to specific laboratories, just like the marks left on a bullet can be tracked to a gun! So such bioterrorism attacks have been done before!

    Considering the number of people that want to make trouble in the world, shouldn't we at least take in and investigate the possibility of this being an attack from terrorists or rogue scientists?

    Who could have done so? There must only be a few dozen labs around he world that could do this...

  • Comment number 53.

    This comment was removed because the moderators found it broke the house rules. Explain.

  • Comment number 54.

    I am contacting you from Mexico City because I am really worried that the information is not getting through correctly. At this point in Mexico we have 397 confirmed cases of Influenza A H1N1 virus (previously called Swine Flu) of which 16 deaths have been confirmed after reviewing 908 possible cases of this type of flu including the supposed original number of deaths that "floated" around for days of 159. Furthermore, of the 16 total confirmed deaths - 11 were from Mexico City, 3 from the State of Mexico, 1 from Oaxaca and 1 from Tlaxcala; 11 were woman and 6 were men; 9 deaths within the ages of 21 - 40. This is the only official information to this point. The Mexican government is working directly with the WHO and CDC and they are handling the same data. The virus at this point has a death index of close to 1.2%.
    It is really important that this information is handled correctly to start putting this virus in perspective. Specially since we are talking about 397 cases of a virus in a country of +100 million people, and a virus that is curable and that is relatively mild.

  • Comment number 55.

    This comment was removed because the moderators found it broke the house rules. Explain.

  • Comment number 56.

    1st let me say this could be the final virus, why? it has already been around the world and no vaccine. the other problem is that as this virus travels around the world it will collide with other viruses that it could mutate with. in the philippines the h1n1 could come in contact with swine ebola virus and mutate into something even more deadly.

    i believe that this virus will be very dangerous now and later mutate into something that could wipe out millions in the 3rd world countries will be the worst to suffer....

  • Comment number 57.

    READ THIS.... Excellent article by Marina Hyde.

    Don't believe the hyperbole. Please don't get all 'Kay Burley' on us.

    But don't be a Michael 'hand out the Strepsils' O'Leary either. Please.

  • Comment number 58.

    I was priviledged to watch a live broadcast direct from the WHO of an interview of Dr Keiji Fukama on bbc news on cable TV in Thailand on 28 April 2009. His press interview was excellent and he spoke with extreme clarity and put all concerns into perspective. In addition, he answered questions from the press with such confidence that it was comforting to watch. Unfortunately, the BBC cut short the live broadcast, claiming that it would be loaded on to the website. Unfortunately, only a short snippet was on the website, whereas I would have appreciated the press report, questions and answers in full. Being a health professional, I appreciated the clarity of his answers and his no nonsense view of the problem. Could the BBC broadcast these presentations to the world, as it gets rid of all the sensationalisation that some press agencies are publishing?

  • Comment number 59.

    I won't die from the flu but I very probably will from boredom. I've tuned in to news broadcasts over the past week only to have hour after hour of this swine flu stuff. Now we're down to learning who's caught flu from who else (as if we didn't know that flu and colds were contagious)! If we MUST know of everyone who has caught this flu then news casts are going to become very long indeed!

    The danger is about calling wolf. If every little disease gets this sort of coverage then when the big one comes, a truly virulent strain that beats the WHO and other bureaucracies at getting its message out, the public will just think "Oh no, not again!" and turn off the TV/Radio. People commute and turn up at work spreading their colds and flu when their real illness is presentee-ism. Others die as a result. What's so special about this one?

  • Comment number 60.

    Like #58 I applaud the work of WHO which has been factual, helpful, unemotional and straight talking. The items on the WHO website are specific carrying no "what if" conjecture and suggesting patience until more is known about A(h1n1). It would appear that WHO are receiving exceedingly accurate data about confirmed cases and deaths and are not going to be driven into making presumptions until they are completely sure of their facts. The advice is to do exactly what you would have done prior to the announcements of swine 'flu and seek medical advice, whilst taking the obvious precautions against passing infections on.

    It is a great pity that the media are not blessed with anything like the same common sense.

  • Comment number 61.

    Swab-testing affords opportunity to add considerably to the Homeland-Security [aka National DNA] Database [No 10 Petition HomelandSec pending;

    As with hookers 'immune' to HIV & AIDS... identification of DNA-strings is important & potentially valuable.

    Citing rugby-player heart-attack deaths DNA-strings too afford treatment-opportunity.

    Insurers 'expect' policy-holders to 'disclose' information they 'do NOT have'.

  • Comment number 62.

    Any virus is unlikely to know the difference between Mexico City, New York, London... hence it falls-upon the authorities... to counter any possible-threat.

    London Underground [tube, metro...] has filtration measured in meters [tunnels, doors...] as opposed to microns ensuring viruses passing-between tourists, workers, residents... is highly-effective.

    Tracking those using 'controlled' public-transport, buildings... is down to cash, taxation & determination; No 10 Petition PFISecurity

    Where an individual is suspected or confirmed to have contracted swine-flu... treating those they may have come into contact with requires the use of database-technology.

  • Comment number 63.

    52. At 6:16pm on 01 May 2009, ynda20 wrote...

    Ironic BBC reporting scare following bodies found in London chemical-incident hotel

    Presurised-rooms, bio-hazard suits... are NOT required by terrorists... so 'bio-chem factory' could be located most-anywhere. Population-tracking No 10 Petition HomelandSec easily-linked to DMV, DVLA... databases. Should an associate... fall-ill are paramedic-delays in finding you a 'price-worth-paying'?

    Any-space [aircraft toilet-cubicle, office-lift...] sufficient where perpetrator-survival a passing-consideration.

    Secure encrypted-servers available for years; I literally wrote Transport & Session Services, drafted Application & Presentation [7-Layer Reference-Model] 1989.

  • Comment number 64.

    I think it is the responsibility of the BBC not only to report the issues with Swine Flu but also to look critically at what was being said by the various parties.
    I think you failed on this point and I think this is down to a general failure to nurture science reporting as a skill.
    Some simple mathematics should have told you that this disease was nowhere near as dangerous as was being stated.

    Last Wednesday I put these simple estimates into a post for Have Your Say.
    In Mexico City there are 26 Million people.
    There was a reasonable number of people arriving abroad with this disease - and this points to a fairly widespread disease.
    It would be a fair assumption that at least 26,000 people had the disease of whom 160 had dies (that has recently been reduced to 160).
    Implication - less than 1 in 100 people who had caught the disease had died.
    Not nice - but not disastrous (SARS was 1 in 10).

    On Saturday someone interviewed on the World Service estimated the likelihood of dying from this as 1 in 1000 - so even I was unduly pessimistic.
    If I could put those numbers together in Wednesday with virtually no access to inside information why couldn't you do this before Saturday ?

  • Comment number 65.

    "but also explore what isn't known"

    You mean speculate? That's not 'news' - news is the reporting of factual events.

  • Comment number 66.

    If any postman is a unknown carrier of the flu virus then having him then distribute leaflets to every houshold would be the most efficient way to spread the flu virus !!!!

  • Comment number 67.

    Dateline: Nigeria, Abuja, May 04 2009 3:15PM.

    Press Release:
    IPHF warns against politicizing and sensationalizing of the H1N1 Virus

    Dr. Francis Ohanyido the President of the International Public Health Forum (IPHF) has warned the media and public officials to be careful about the way they portray the H1N1 virus aka swine flu. Answering questions on the evolving pandemic in Abuja yesterday, the IPHF boss admonished against unnecessary sensationalism of the issue by the media and advised journalists to give the public accurate information that can assist in mitigating the spread. He also reacted to statements by public officers like US Vice-President Joe Biden that was credited to have advised Americans against some forms of transportation. He advised that whenever possible notable figures should endeavour to have a perspective of WHOs global and public health posture on such issues before making categorical statements.
    The Forum is wholly in support of the direction, drive and leadership of the WHO, and agrees with Keiji Fukuda, Assistant Director-General of the UN Health body the epidemiological picture is still evolving and heightened vigilance and improved reporting structure is critical, especially in view of the sustained human transmission that has so far been seen particularly in Mexico and other countries. He further advised that the term H1N1 should be used rather than the swine flu which is to some extent misleading a lot of people into the impression that the flu is actively being spread by pigs or circulating amongst them. In this sense, he reiterated that the case is not exactly the same as experienced with the H5N1 (Bird flu).
    Ohanyido further called upon countries challenged by resources to make great effort to ensure that a pandemic response system in line with WHO recommendation is in place, so as to reduce possible cost profile in the case of a wider pandemic escalating to Level 6.

  • Comment number 68.

    From #67
    "Ohanyido further called upon countries challenged by resources to make great effort to ensure that a pandemic response system in line with WHO recommendation is in place, so as to reduce possible cost profile in the case of a wider pandemic escalating to Level 6."

    It is worth noting that WHO have also clearly stated that Level 6 does not indicate the likelihood of infection nor the severity of the illness (or therefore the mortality rate) but does reflect the area of the globe affected by the infection. The higher the number the more countries with confirmed cases.

  • Comment number 69.

    Some of the BBC coverage has been very informative and helpful, but I would have to caution you against using inflammatory language when discussing the flu outbreak.

    A few days ago I heard one of you news readers on News 24 use these words, "Swine flu is sweeping across the world".

    At the time there were fewer than 150 confirmed cases in the whole world. How can that be considered to be "Sweeping across the world"?

    Please keep your language under control when dealing with an event like this flu epidemic.

  • Comment number 70.

    Some of the information given has so far been extremely helpful and I think the BBC has done an excellent job of keeping the public calm. However I do think that saying that Swine Flu is "sweeping" across the world is more than a slight exaggeration with only very few confirmed cases.

    Although I do think its worthwhile to take tamiflu as a precautionary measure. Especially those most vulnerable, like myself with a heart condition (I've got a Metal Aortic Valve). Its beneficial to prevent and fight the new flu virus, so its definitely worth taking.


  • Comment number 71.

    The Mexicans are blaming NAFTA for the swine flu. As one Mexican recently told me: "That is what Mexico get for importing pigs from the USA under the NAFTA cover."

  • Comment number 72.

    Lets face it, the coverage has been alarmist and silly. The BBC hasn't been as bad as some outlets, but still not the British media's finest hour I think.

  • Comment number 73.

    This comment was removed because the moderators found it broke the house rules. Explain.

  • Comment number 74.

    I think that the potential dangers from new variant of this virus should not be under estimated and tend to agree with the health experts on this one. I was thefore incensed by your editorial decision to invite Kelvin McKenzie to comment on the efforts being made by the health authorities to contain the outbreak on this morning's breakfast programme as plain daft. Politics aside, what can that man possibly know about how the virus can spread and the best way of controlling it is beyond me. Remarks like: ' The teaching staff have got another week off on full pay and the kids have stopped taking their Tamiflu and are walking around the local town centre as the school is shut spreading their germs' (does he know that for a fact?) I suppose is only to be expected from him. It is a shame that he has not been to Mexico recently.

  • Comment number 75.


    So I guess you "know" that the BBC has consulted learned medical experts before it ships out its own brand of "facts and figures"? The facts is we know an awful lot about type A influenza because it has been around quite a long time and most of the UK population has suffered at least one dose of it. One of the things we may not understand is that dosing people up with Tamiflu and trying to limit spread are actually playing into the hands of future pandemics because the crucial factor in influenza is the production of antibodies by the would be host.

    People will die because of type A influenza infection, so called swine variant or not. That is a fact of life and one of the risks that have to be taken to ensure that the majority have the capacity to produce antibodies that will mitigate against future variants. What we should expect of our media is balanced reporting and if that requires both "right" and "left" wing variants of "facts" then so be it.

  • Comment number 76.

    It's a cold, that's it. How many people would rather see the real news rather than this rubbish. This pandemic is the flesh-eating bacteria, the pit bull attacks child, the immigrants milking Britain story of the minute and it's poor journalism. The real stories are squashed into the "and in other news" section which last about 5 minutes, great work!!

  • Comment number 77.

    Its trebled in scotland in the last 3 days, thats not a cold, thats pretty scary!!

  • Comment number 78.

    Yesterday the headline on both Online ad TV was 'Girl dies after getting Swine Flu'. The headline very clear makes claim to a causal effect - it provokes readers through making them think that the girl died *because* of swine flu.

    Yet later the article goes on to admit that it was completely unknown if swine flu contributed to her death, and that the girl actually 'had other serious health problems'.

    How does this fit into your claim that you are here 'to inform but not to alarm'? The headline was a clear example of attempting to alarm people, regardless of the facts. Your claim that the public are not panicking would seem to be that they are not panicking despite extensive efforts on behalf of the media, including the BBC.

    Headlines should not be written to distort the known facts simply to drive up audience figures...

  • Comment number 79.

    as an International Traveller.... it would be more useful to have media estimates of the Actual Global Presence and Absense in places. For instance it was shocking to hear from friends that Dubai Airport was full of sick people (2009/early08). As such I've choosen Singapore for a cross-over-flight I will be taking in a months time.
    It's shocking in several aspects... 1. that this is mouth to mouth knowledge... and 2. that this isn't knowledge reported on in the media.. and also inteligently reported on... like perhaps it is just flu season in Arabia, with other common flus being present and not swine flu.
    Also the media should provide other intelligence, such as whether successful vaccines are present... and whether these have world-wide distribution.
    Damn the comments on local coverages and spreads per country and their supposed hype... the media is still and should primarily be for good international inteligence to people who through inteligent design of thier own plans can actually curb Global Spread of what could be a serious global epidemic

  • Comment number 80.

    MORE MONEY FOR THE AMERICAN PHARMACEUTICAL COMPANIES! This started in Mexican and an American Company alerted WHO "World Health Organization." Who is making money off this? American Pharmaceutical Companies.

  • Comment number 81.

    "There are lives at risk," Gibbs said. "The sooner this idea gets out, the better."

    We have 12 monkeys, yet the members of the media will be satisfied to merely report the death toll, again.., just like Iraq.

  • Comment number 82.

    'I'm ashamed now to admit that I did not believe it at first. It was just too much to accept.'

    We have 12 monkeys on our back, yet the members of the media will be satisfied to merely report the death toll, again..,

  • Comment number 83.

    "Wolf-Dieter Ludwig, chairman of the Drug Commission of the German Medical Association, has called the planned vaccination campaign a "scandal." "The health authorities have fallen for a campaign from the pharmaceutical companies, who simply want to earn money with an alleged threat," he told SPIEGEL.",1518,656028,00.html

    He did not? Did he, really?

    'Second-service medicine'? Honestly? Is this some sort of party versus proles, prowling? Public servants…

    Meanwhile on the other side of the pond:

    'New York medical workers (conspiracy nuts, as defined by the newspeak of BBC) took legal action.., claiming the vaccines have not been properly tested.

    Have you shown interest in 'an adjuvant, whose side effects are not yet entirely known.' It's all over the mainstream, threaded in threads, I'll share this opinion though>

    I've just learned that Germany has enough of the nano-tech-no logical stuff to inoculate the whole country, twice. Earlier, I've noticed that whole bunch of countries bought 'stuff' that is yet to be approved, if ever.

    Murderers in place of public servants are intimidating all the goodness we have at the top. Impotent media.., I for one find it unbearable.

    Bow, bow, bow… extortion, blackmail… well known criminals at large, well known criminals in charge.

  • Comment number 84.

    I totally agree with post 83. This is a criminal conspiracy on the part of the Pharmaceutical industry, though I doubt if the politicians are directly involved:they are so scientifically illiterate that they are suckers for anything like this, but of course it helps that they're paying with someone else's money. Far more people will die from the side effects of the vaccines than would have died from swine flu, and many millions across continents will have their immune systems impaired permanently, resulting in huge increases in the incidence of rheumatic ailments, asthma, possibly autism- all grist to the mill of the medical priesthood and their suppliers, of course. Please understand, everyone-it is to the financial advantage of both the medical profession and the pharmaceutical industry to have a chronically sick, totally medicalised population, and we are talking many billions of pounds, euros, dollars or whatever. These people want and need you sick: just think about it-you know it makes sense.

  • Comment number 85.

    'Guesstimating' in dark...

    We're dealing with a lot of known unknowns, eh?

  • Comment number 86.

    This letter is from healthcare workers.

  • Comment number 87.

  • Comment number 88.

    This comment was removed because the moderators found it broke the house rules. Explain.


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