Wednesday, 29 December 2010

Infulenza Fears

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The annual flu season has returned however this year it carries more of an alarmist name. Since July 2009, when the last large pandemic of swine flu gripped the country 1, the government tested its measured to see if it would be able to control and cope with a large scale pandemic. I think we can clearly say that it was fairly unsuccessful, leading to unnecessary fear and scaremongering of the public by the media. The only thing that was really determined during that summer was that the virus was targeting the young rather than typically attacking the elderly, however it was no more deadly than previous seasonal influenzas. During that year swine flu only killed 0.03% of those infected 2; the only difference was that a greater proportion than normal was children. It is because the media have thrust this virus in to the public eye and over stated the severity of its spread that we are now in a situation where many individuals are demanding medication and treatment and not taking the time to rest and recover. There is no instant cure for any type of flu, because it is a virus, and so notoriously difficult to treat with medication.

The main medication available to treat swine flu is Tamiflu, which is one of a few effective anti-viral drugs on the market. It is not 100% effective, but it can reduce the viral burden in infected individuals and allow a quicker recovery in most people.

Another misconception is that antibiotics are required; this will not help in the recovery from influenza because it is a virus and antibiotics only work on bacteria 3. Over prescription and not completing all of the doses lead to an increase in antibiotic resistance in the bacterial population, which causes situations like the recent MRSA infections, which are no longer susceptible to antibiotics and so no effective treatment options are left. So doctors are advised to only prescribe antibiotics to patients who have a preexisting medical condition, because the decrease in their immune system due to influenza would leave them susceptible to potentially deadly secondary infections, which most health people could fight off without the need for antibiotics.

Another point to raise is that many people have become unnecessarily wary of vaccinations, this was highlighted during the summer of 2009 when people in at risk groups were offered the swine flu jab. Even thought it was proved safe and effective, many people refused to be vaccinated. The jab was only offered to those who are likely to have medical complication if they contracted swine flu, like pregnant women. Vaccination is an important part of risk management and so those in at risk groups should protect themselves.

But it is important to note, that not enough vaccine is available for everyone, so only those who really need it should become vaccinated, the BBC this week highlighted this point in a article attempting to quell the fears of over protective parents 5. The same limitations apply to antibiotics and antiviral drugs, where only those at increased risk should be offered them. It is important to note that these all cause a huge financial strain on the National Health Service and so should be prioritized to those at most at risk. Unfortunately the health service has to carry out a balancing act between the numbers of people who need medical treatment and the financial constraints of said medial treatment. Simple preventative actions cannot be over stated enough, the “catch it, kill it, bin it” campaign 6 and intensive hand washing campaign are likely to reduced the spread of viral infections just as much as the drugs used to treat them 4, after all, prevention is better than treatment.

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