Doctors warn of potentially catastrophic flu pandemic in UK

BMJ 2005; 331 doi: (Published 03 November 2005) Cite this as: BMJ 2005;331:1041
  1. Lynn Eaton
  1. London

    The effect of a flu pandemic arising from the mutation of avian flu into a human form would be “somewhere between major and catastrophic,” Richard Jarvis, a BMA council member, told members of the House of Lords Science and Technology Committee last week.

    The committee is looking into how well prepared the United Kingdom is for a possible outbreak of a pandemic strain of the flu in humans. It held two hearings last week and took evidence from the BMA, the Royal College of General Practitioners, the Royal College of Nursing, NHS Direct, the Health Protection Agency, the World Health Organization, and vaccine manufacturers.

    Dr Jarvis, a consultant in health protection, said that despite the measures being taken to prepare for such a pandemic doctors and nurses would struggle to cope with the extra number of patients needing treatment.

    And Nigel Mathers, chairman of the Royal College of General Practitioners' Research Group, said that normally GPs would see 30 cases a week of flu in every 100 000 patients. This rises to 250 per 100 000 patients during a normal flu outbreak. But a pandemic could mean between 5000 and 10 000 cases per 100 000 patients.

    “We would not be able to cope with a surge like that,” he warned. He said a huge media campaign would be necessary to tell the public how best to treat symptoms themselves, so reducing the number of visits to surgeries.

    Professor Mathers also pleaded for more secure funding for the college's influenza surveillance unit, which monitors the UK's flu incidence each week and would be the first warning system of any outbreak. The unit is funded by a contract with the Department of Health, but its current grant runs out in April 2006.


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