Tuesday, April 28, 2009
It's important to cut through the shrill 'Sky News' breathless scaremongering and establish some facts about Swine Flu.
Let me endeavour to do just that, because once the facts are known, it is likely that many people might join me in hoping that Swine Flu breaks out globally and becomes a dreaded pandemic.
Firstly, you should know how influenza works. It's a vast family of viruses, constantly changing, some of which affect birds, some pigs and some us.
Because it's always changing, and because there are literally hundreds of strains out there at any given time, it's not possible to create a perfect flu vaccine.
So Swine Flu is basically a pig flu that has jumped species to humans and is now being passed from person to person. So, no, eating Irish bacon is not a risk (unless they've filled it with dioxin again, of course.)
Every year, tens of thousands of people die from some version of the flu. They tend to be older, frailer people. But every now and again, a strain of flu comes along which most people have little or no immunity to.
Basically, it comes out of nowhere and is so different to the previous strains that no one's body has ever seen anything like it.
When that happens, a pandemic (global epidemic) can happen. And often with pandemics, it's mostly young, healthy people who die.
The last pandemic was in 1968, over four decades ago. That means that one is WAY overdue. But, the world, and especially our part of it, has never been better prepared for a pandemic.
We've got loads of anti-viral drugs that seem on first impression to be a bit effective against the Mexican Swine Flu strain.
And last year's flu jab contained a quite similar strain, so it might offer some protection to anyone who got the jab last Autumn.
But the best news is that this particular strain doesn't seem particularly fatal. When you consider that the Spanish flu of 1918 killed more people than World War I, then you can imagine what very fatal flus could do in this age of modern air travel and the global village.
But while many people have died in Mexico, it seems that for the most part they had delayed some time in getting medical help.
In other countries where travellers have returned with the illness, so far no one has died because they got medical help in time.
Since we're overdue a flu pandemic, I'd rather we had one that wasn't particularly fatal. And perhaps a successful global response to fighting a common enemy, like an epidemic, might be the catalyst the world requires to snap out of the recession slump.
In short, don't lose any sleep over Swine Flu. Equally, don't go holidaying on Mexican pig farms either.
This has been a JC Skinner public health announcement.