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Swine flu patients would be better off suffering in silence

I know this sounds hard to believe, but I reckon I could, at a stroke, solve the current workload issues cause by swine flu.

I know this sounds hard to believe, but I reckon I could, at a stroke, solve the current workload issues cause by swine flu.

Let's think it through. Why are our phones currently on meltdown? Because patients are freaking out in fear of pig flu. And why do they think they've got it? Because all they need is a fever and two of any easily imagined symptoms (nervous cough, tension headache etc) to fulfil the diagnostic criteria. And why the need for the GP? Because the public perception is that this viral sniffle is the next Black Death. And what are we supposed to do about it? Legitimise a claim for antivirals, of course.

So far so good. But this next step is where it all falls down. Why are we dishing out antivirals? Ah…pass.

The high risk groups may warrant it, admittedly. But everyone? Do you know exactly what these treatments achieve? Well I do, because, being a good evidence-based blogger, I've just looked it up. Admittedly, all we have to go on is the seasonal flu based research. But based on that, these drugs everyone's clamouring for result in, at best, a 12 to 24 hours reduction in symptoms.

Yes, you read that correctly. The wonderdrugs get you better half a day or so quicker than would otherwise have been the case. Oh, and to achieve this ‘benefit', particularly in pandemic mode, they ought to be administered within 12 hours.

Or, to sum up, they're a waste of time - and can't possibly be given in time, either. But the guidance states that we have to dish them out, so the impression the public receives is that they're lifesavers.

If we told them the truth, then maybe people would be more chilled about their chills. Run that logical progression in reverse. No need for antivirals. That means a less scary virus. That means no need to contact the doctor.

And that means patients doing what they're supposed to do when they've got flu. Suffering – in silence.

Copperfield: Patients would be better off suffering in silence Copperfield: Patients would be better off suffering in silence

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