Sunday, 24 May 2009

Swine Flu - Better to live in the UK than the USA

Once again the NHS is proving its worth in the UK. Swine flu cases have now reached 122 here in the UK, but the rate at which it is spreading I find somewhat reassuring. I live in the South West where 3 cases evolved weeks ago. A family returning from a holiday in Mexico brought it back with them. The girl's school was shut and all her class mates given Tamiflu. I anticipated as a result that spread in the South West was inevitable, but weeks later still no further cases have been reported.

In the UK, I understand that people presenting with even mild symptoms of suspected swine flu are being tested and are prescribed with Tamiflu, and even close contacts who are not presenting with symptoms are offered Tamiflu as a precaution. Reason being, according to the NHS guidelines, 'Testing has shown that the swine flu can be treated with the antiviral medicines oseltamavir (brand name Tamiflu) and zanamivir (Relenza). However, the drugs must be administered at an early stage to be effective'.

If you develop flu like symptoms in the UK, the advice is not to visit your GP, but to call a help line, to avoid spreading the virus.

In the USA, however, the guidelines are completely different. The CDC says that treatment is available for those that are seriously ill (therefore no treatment is available for those who are not seriously ill?), even though it also goes on to admit that antiviral drugs work best if given within 2 days of becoming ill. The CDC advice if you develop the flu:

'It is expected that most people will recover without needing medical care.
If you have severe illness or you are at high risk for flu complications, contact your health care provider or seek medical care. Your health care provider will determine whether flu testing or treatment is needed. Be aware that if the flu becomes wide spread, there will be little need to continue testing people, so your health care provider may decide not to test for the flu virus.'

Wow, I would have to wait until I am seriously ill before seeking medical treatment in the USA? And even then no clear direction on how to get treatment, just that I should 'seek medical care' - so I guess I would turn up at the emergency room and contaminate everyone there right?

Of course I understand why this course of inaction - money. But surely the savings in not treating people early with antivirals are going to cost the economy a whole lot more in the long run?

So no surprise that further deaths are anticipated. Also inevitable that it is just a matter of time before the swine flu becomes widespread throughout the USA. Glad I don't live there. And I figure not a good idea to visit the USA either, at least not for the next 12 months!

The only useful tip I picked up from the CDC is that aspirin should not be given to children 18 or under with the swine flu, due to the increased risk in Reye's syndrome - something I knew nothing about (although I know in general is it not a good idea to give children aspirin).

Here's the MedWorm swine flu page with RSS feed, updated every hour, for all the very latest information from offical sources.


  1. Frankly Frankie....... I would rather be in America with Swine Flu with NO health insurance then in the Uk with the NHS with Swine Flu. I would either be dead or nearly there waiting on the NHS to sort me out and the hospitals are old and dirty. The worst thing that could happen in America is I'd be broke! BUT... at least I'd be alive to moan about it! You know I understand and respect your comment but have you lived in America? Ever? Well I have lived in England for 7 years and had a child there as well, in a "POSH" area called Solihull, West Midlands, not impressed at all. Hands down would I choose to be cared for in America and not just because I am American because there is a lot about England I love and there is a lot about America I dont love but I will put it to you this way ..... when I was pregnant with my next child I went home running!

  2. So glad someone has disagreed with me! I love a debate. No I haven't lived in the US - and I am sure that the care given in a lot of the hospitals there is better than a lot of the UK hospitals - of that I really don't need convincing.

    This discussion was really in respect to the different approaches in tackling the swine flu - but already the NHS has changed their tact quite a lot since posting this comment. After prescribing Tamiflu to everyone they then seemed to go to the other extreme and were suddenly very cautious about prescribing (likely out of concern for the risk of a possible Tamiflu resistant flu emerging) and now suddenly it seems to be a ‘free for all’ where you can simply fill in your symptoms and receive a prescription online! I guess time will tell whether the flu was better handled by the NHS or the US when we later compare the death tolls (of course taking into consideration the population and infection rates).

    Regarding hospitals being old and dirty here, well some hospitals are very old, and some are very new. Older hospitals are of course known to be harder to clean than the new ones. There used to be some very dirty hospitals (as well as some very new and clean ones) but across the board 'a lot' has done in past years (probably since you left) to tackle cleanliness (especially because of MRSA), reduce operation waiting lists and also to improve those hospitals that were not performing as well as others.

    The fact that the NHS is free for all (UK citizens) is truly wonderful but only fully appreciated by those who are left without. Indeed we are currently try to organise for a (non-UK family) member to come here for an operation that we will have to pay for privately and it is a huge burden for us. To be anywhere without proper health cover is terrible. It is all very well you saying that you would rather be without health insurance in the US than being treated by the NHS, since the worst you would end up is broke, but the reality is that many US citizens simply go without the health care that they need because of lack of insurance. Of course I am not qualified to tell you this, not having lived in the US, but you can have a listen to some of the many US testimonies here: