All Aboard the Flu-Flu Train to Hysteriasville!

May 12, 2009

Advice about what to do with your NHS leaflet

Advice about what to do with your NHS leaflet

The Swine Flu scare is an extremely odd phenomenon. Odd, because of the very low number of people who have died from (or even been diagnosed with) the condition, but also because of the theatrically hysterical response of the UK government in dealing with it.

I’ve just received a leaflet from the NHS, in conjunction with something called the Department of Health, Social Services and Public Safety (pace Robespierre?) which, while hardly informative, could certainly be described as alarming. Alarmist even. [On further inspection, the DHSSPS turns out to be some sort of Northern Irish outpost of the NHS, which makes the “public safety” aspect a bit more chilling].

“Important Information About Swine Flu” purports to contain “important information to help you and your family.” So some people will immediately be alarmed, associating the word family with anxiety.

The leaflet then describes how “because it’s a new virus, no one will have immunity to it and everyone could be at risk of catching it.” Yet after at least three weeks of global hysteria, there is no pandemic. Thousands of Britons aren’t collapsing in the streets. Until Friday night, that is.

Deaths that might be ascribed to Swine Flu have barely passed 50, and many of those are highly questionable. Take the example of a Costa Rican man, the country’s “first victim,” who “had been suffering from other health problems, including diabetes and a chronic pulmonary condition.”

But the fact that the threat of Swine Flu has been vastly overblown is not reflected in the pamphlet before me. Travellers returning from Mexico are told to stay at home if they “think they might have Swine Flu” while, if they must seek medical help (and don’t care to be held on an NHS hotline) they should enlist a “flu friend” to go to the GP.

Concerned prospective patients are also counselled to pay close attention to events by “watching TV, listening to the radio, checking the internet and looking out for announcements in the press.”

Don’t whatever you do, read blogs like this. You might go outside.

Thankfully, although you can’t go outside, you’re freaking your mates out by asking them to be your “flu friend,” and you have developed an obsession with BBC News 24 which a conventionally rational human really shouldn’t, there is cause to relax.

Dr Gordo and his chums have been working night and day, donning labcoats and glueing the blister packs that contain your precious salvation.

Apparently, “we have a good stockpile of antiviral drugs (including Tamiflu and Relenza) – enough to treat more than 33 million people…and we are planning to increase this.”

I jest, but that is actually placed above a little clipart blister pack, in case you didn’t get the message: Big Pharma (Roche, Gilead etc..) and Big Gordo are in control, and in the money.

As mentioned before on this blog, plucky little Cipla, who can produce the same drugs quicker and at a fraction of the price, have been roundly ignored.

Anyway, having read the pamphlet, I’m alarmed – hypothetically at least. So what do I do? What DO I do?

After beating my head against the kitchen mirror I’m back at the computer. After fumbling around with acronyms, I’m finally at the website of the DHS and I’m hungry for either terror or reassurance.

Thankfully, I’m feeling rather calmer. Apparently, according to the Department, although 55 potential Swine Flu cases have been investigated in Northern Ireland, not one has come up positive.

Yet despite this, the Minister concerned is still telling me that, while “we have had no confirmed cases of swine flu in Northern Ireland, but that doesn’t mean we should become complacent” and “We will continue to make preparations to help us respond in the event of a pandemic.”

Trouble is, I don’t live in NI, alas. I don’t live in Wales either, but I thought I should check out NHS Wales’ information site. Apparently, there have been no confirmed cases in Wales either, with 71 suspected cases having come up blank.

Over at the main NHS site, a press release tells me that “there are now more than 60 confirmed cases of swine flu in the UK. All are responding to treatment and their symptoms are reported to be relatively mild.”

Interestingly, that press release tells me that face masks “may have some limited ability to stop those already infected with the virus from spreading it” and that “specialist and other types of face masks are useful for frontline NHS staff who are caring for infected patients.”

I’m glad I checked the web, as my leaflet tells me otherwise, stating that “the available scientific evidence shows that these basic face masks don’t protect people from becoming infected.”

Well, according to the NHS they do – not that I’ll be wearing one any time soon. It’s just that the messages coming across are rather muddled. People could get confused and… leave the house.

The problem is, there is so much confusion about Swine Flu that leaflets like this are nothing more than propaganda. The government is happy to pose as dynamic and prepared, dealing with a global threat and showing how concerned it is for “families.”

But the NHS press release is less certain. In answer to the question “Why do people appear to develop less severe swine flu outside of Mexico?” it replies that “this is not yet understood, and there could be a variety of explanations.”

“It may be that people affected in Mexico may have sought treatment at a much later stage than those in other countries. General living and nutritional standards may also play a role. Other experts have suggested that there may even be a second separate virus circulating in Mexico which is having an impact but this is not known.”

In other words, we don’t have a clue about how severe Swine Flu is as a threat to human life, or how quickly it will spread. We don’t know how social factors such as poverty play into it, but we are ready for the apocalypse.

After reading the leaflet, I’m ready too.

Will you be my flu friend?

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One Response to “All Aboard the Flu-Flu Train to Hysteriasville!”


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