Thursday, 20 January 2011

Realistic Risk

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Fergus Walsh writes for the BBC medical files section, and it is refreshing to see the relative risk from seasonal flu being assessed in a non-alarmist way. His article “What is the chances of dying of the flu?” 1 carefully asses your risk, which is depended on what age group you fall in to and other risk factors. Even at the highest risk, those of middle age, only 1 in 440,000 people are likely to die from swine flu. Obviously far greater numbers of people contract the flu for every one person who dies, but it is something we really should not be so worried about, as our individual risk is so very small.  This doesn’t mean we should be complacent about cleanliness or the spreading of germs; as this is just good practice in order to lower your risk of most kinds of easily transmittable infections. It was nice to see such a well thought out argument, laid out in an easy to understand way, which might help set the public’s mind at rest and maybe go some way to lowering the number of angry mothers demanding the flu jab for there child. The NHS can only afford a limited number of immunizations, and so those at most risk need to get themselves vaccinated, while everyone else should practice common sense and good cleanliness. I agree vaccinations are vital for the protection of a population from a variety of deadly diseases, but the seasonal flu is not as deadly as the media is promoting it as and realistically, a number of people die from the normal flu every year, and so this is not particularly more virulent than any other. We need to keep in mind that if the NHS vaccinated everyone, then there would be no money to offer chemotherapy to cancer patents and to pay for preventative mammograms that save thousands of lives every year. It’s a difficult balancing act, and that is why we need to have a basic understanding of the risk involved before deciding a course of action. 

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