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This week: The flu and the fall.

Text by Eve IRVINE

Latest update : 2009-08-31

Using London as the laboratory, HEALTH examines the new flu, checking up on its potency and on treatments to fight it.

 At the peaks of summers unusual flu spell, England recorded over 100,000 new cases of flu within the space of a week. With the National Health Service (NHS) swamped by patients the government set up a National Flu Pandemic service, which saw tens of thousands of people log on and get diagnosed over the net. Numbers have since dropped but many fear that as students head back to school – the flu will flare up again.

Since it was identified in Mexico in April, the virus has cross all continents. In Europe the UK was the worst hit so HEALTH travels to London to find out more about what the new flu is really made up of.


First up, HEALTH visits the World Influenza Centre, a 1930s building in Northern London which receives flu samples from all over the globe. Deputy Director Rod Daniels has been studying the influenza virus for over 30 years, looking at its make up in order to understand its potency. For the time being he hasn’t noticed any significant changes in the flu but even he admits that the flu can change overnight and is pretty unpredictable.


Gabrielle Bussell knows all about the new flu. She’s had it and remembers suffering from a temperature of 30° on the hottest day England has seen this year. "It was well, the flu, but the worst flu I've ever had with vomiting, diarrhea, dizzyness..on the Friday I was standing up and nearly passing out, hacking cough a really really bad cough."


It was a joy she passed onto her fiancé Ed. He however was not struck down so hard with the illness and didn’t have to take the antiviral Tamiflu Gabrielle had been prescribed.


Tamiflu and Ralenza are two antiviral medications still proving effective as treatments against the virus. However some experts question the liberty with which people in England have been able to get their hands on the drugs. HEALTH visits a Tamiflu distribution centre at Mile End Hospital in London’s east end neighbourhood of Tower Hamlets.


At one point of the summer this region had the highest level of the new flu virus in the UK with over 300 people arriving at the centre every day. "I arrived in June on the first day of our opening and at that point we were seeing around 300 people a day. My role would be to access patients who may have flu symptoms, or to issue Tamiflu to a friend of or a relative of someone who has the symptoms but has stayed at home to get well," remembers Nurse Lesley Collins.


The first vaccinations have already been delivered to French and British governments. Never before have pharmaceutical companies been asked to make such high quantities of vaccinations in such a short space of time. It’s big business for them but some are worried about how fast the vaccine is being produced.


At Babyjabs, a vaccination clinic for babies in London, Dr Richard Halvorsen is concerned about how many vaccinations are given without through consideration.


A GP in the city for 20 years he’s already seen a number of flu cases this summer but believes the virus is too mild to merit a flu shot. He advices mothers of babies and indeed mums to be to think twice before accepting the jab.


"In general we like to avoid giving any sort of drug including a vaccine to pregnant women unless its absolutely necessary am at least one of the swine flu vaccines will contain mercury for example which is a very toxic poison that has been removed from all routinely used childhood vaccines but will never the less be in the swine flu vaccine that is a potential neurotoxin and I couldn't advice any pregnant woman to take a vaccine with mercury in it," notes Dr Halvorsen.


Indeed some companies are providing the vaccine in large bottles of roughly ten doses. In order to allow these vials to be open for more than two or three hours before going off, they have added mercury as a preservative. But they insist the levels put in the vaccine are nothing to be worried about.


Governments in the northern hemisphere alone have ordered one billion doses of the vaccine. They will each decide in their own way when and if a nationwide vaccination campaign should be put into place.



Date created : 2009-08-28