Monday, 6 July 2009

Swine 'flu

I don’t know about you, but I’m quietly getting more and more concerned about swine flu. A month ago, the World Health Organisation declared a global pandemic. I know it’s been out of the media spotlight for a while, but that doesn’t mean that it’s gone away, far from it.

You see, initially we were finding 5 or 10 new cases each day in this country, recently there’s been over 100 new cases daily and this week, the department of health has said that so many people have it that they can no longer keep count. At the moment, for most people, swine flu is a minor disease, but there are a few things that are concerning me greatly.

  1. As I mentioned earlier, the number of new cases being found appears to be snowballing
  2. If you read about previous flu pandemics, it seems to be the pattern that the flu is mild in the summer time, but then comes back again with a vengeance in the winter and that’s when most people die
  3. Word from the intensive care doctors is that in those who need ITU admission quickly develop kidney failure and multiple organ failure – basically, they get very, very sick very quickly and stay that way for ages.
  4. If the pandemic gets really serious and comes to my corner of the UK, I doubt that we’ll have enough space in intensive care to look after these people.

I’m also becoming more and more concerned about my own safety because:

  1. History shows that those that die from flu epidemics tend to be young, previously healthy men – like me.
  2. If the pandemic does get worse then, as an anaesthetist, I’ll be the person called to intubate these people and put them on ventilators. This puts me at an incredibly high risk of getting the virus. Remember all the anaesthetists and other healthcare workers who got SARS for this exact reason? Do you remember those who died?
Dr Tse volunteered herself in taking charge of the SARS ward and delivering direct medical care and treatment for SARS patients in Tuen Mun Hospital. In the full knowledge of the enormous risks for herself in performing the procedure, she repeatedly carried out intubation of her SARS patients in distress. She had worked with exceptional dedication, steadfastness and commitment in a selfless and fearless manner. By voluntarily putting her own life in extreme danger in order to save others, Dr Tse displayed noble gallantry of the highest order in carrying out her last duties.

Doctors like me are expected to turn up to work and carry on. We are expected to do the best we can in whatever situation we find ourselves in, regardless of the risks that we face by doing so. Talking to my colleagues, I have no doubt that this is exactly what we will do – we will do the best for our patients – but as each day goes by and as the death toll keeps rising, the swine-flu pandemic is giving me cause for concern.

If I think about what could potentially happen with this pandemic, it gives me the chills. I really, really hope that it all fizzles out and things don’t get much worse that they are already.

I’m keeping everything crossed.


Anonymous said...

Hm, I think swine flu differs from SARS in that there is a vaccine already on the horizon (Novartis apparently produced the first batch in June). So, hopefully, by the winter (when the transmission rate goes up and any changes in the evilness of the virus are most likely to occur) there should be at least sufficient vaccine available for people like you who are at high risk of infection (and key workers with it).
I can't see it fizzling out on its own... but all the same the case isn't the same here as for earlier flu pandemics (at least in this country).

Oliver Smith said...

I am starting to get slightly more concerned, especially given I fall into one of the categories for the 'Flu vaccine each Autumn...

Renal said...

I did see an interesting presentation given by (now apparently gone down) concerning the provision of ITU beds, ventilator capable beds and staff to run all this. Short answer - we're fucked if it kicks off.

rosiero said...

Two girls in my daughter's school have been diagnosed with it and a boy died from it about a mile away from where we live. A bit too close for comfort.

Anonymous said...

i've been following your blog for a while (i work in healthcare as a cardiac tech in Canada), and i recently - wednesday - caught what i thought was just a nasty flu.
i went to the ER and got swabbed just for percautions.
i found out last night i have H1N1.

so, i'm on strict isolation for at least the next 7 days.
at first i was pretty freaked out. but i just keep telling myself, it's just another strain of a flu virus. just comes from some piggies. i mean, the influenza virus that comes every fall kills many more than this strain (thus far).... so, yeah.
here's hoping i'm right.

Jo said...

Exact cause of death "unknown", but a GP has died whilst suffering from Swine Flu. :-(

Dr Michael Anderson said...

Leigh - I hope you feel better soon, and I hope that you are right too. Thing is flu doesn't normally kill in the summer and H1N1 is doing just that. Heaven knows what's going to happen in the winter. I'm keeping everything crossed

Anonymous said...

Problem solved.

Jo said...

This published on the Beeb this morning - very interesting article (and as someone who isn't medical at all, raises some questions that I hadn't even thought about!)