Intended for healthcare professionals

Rapid response to:

Research

Public perceptions, anxiety, and behaviour change in relation to the swine flu outbreak: cross sectional telephone survey

BMJ 2009; 339 doi: https://doi.org/10.1136/bmj.b2651 (Published 02 July 2009) Cite this as: BMJ 2009;339:b2651

Rapid Response:

Swine flu parties? What parties?

It would appear the swine flu "parties" that the press have been in a
lather about recently exist only in their fevered imaginations. It is
clear that some elements of the media, desperate for a unique slant on the
problem to make them stand out among the wall-to-wall reporting on swine
flu, have gullibly swallowed and promoted the idea that these are taking
place.

The idea of "pig flu parties" was first floated over two months ago
(1,2), only to rear its snout once more at the end of June (3). The BBC
was responding (over-reacting?) to information from Justine Roberts, from
the Internet forum Mumsnet. However, rather than having evidence of any
parties having taken place or being organised, it was clear that the
parties were just a "proof of concept" idea floated for debate on the
Mumsnet forum. The BBC itself even tried to drum up discussion, with Helen
Sorell, BBC researcher, saying the BBC would love to hear from anyone
thinking about a party so they could contribute to a Radio5 phone-in (4).

There was no evidence these parties were happening or even that
anyone thought them to be a good idea, as the posts to the forum clearly
indicate. Yet on the strength of these Mumsnet (non)discussions, Ms
Roberts was able to talk about swine flu parties on the BBC Today
programme, which generated warnings from Dr Richard Jarvis of the BMA.
This was then picked up by the rest of the media, spreading faster than
the flu itself, as reported by among others the Independent, Telegraph,
Mail, Express, Mirror, Times, Sky (and of course the BBC itself) giving
everyone the impression that parties must be taking place. By the next day
the certainty that the UK population was revelling in swine flu parties
became known across the globe, with Australian Broadcasting news reporting
"Parents in the UK are taking their children to swine flu parties" (5).

So were a lot of people taliking about swine flu parties? You bet.
Next thing you know they might even think of arranging some.

There are arguments in favour of allowing exposure to swine flu, but
they are faily weak in my opinion. One can understand the fatalistic view
of those who accept inevitable exposure, saying they might as well get it
over with now rather than later. But so far there is absolutely no
evidence that parties are being organised to deliberately expose children.
Once again, our nation's "science" journalists have spectacularly misfired
with their "incisive" and "accurate" reporting.

(1) http://news.bbc.co.uk/1/hi/magazine/8045896.stm

(2) http://www.nytimes.com/2009/05/07/health/07party.html

(3) http://news.bbc.co.uk/1/hi/health/8125191.stm

(4) http://www.mumsnet.com/Talk/media_nonmember_requests/782096-Swine
-Flu-Parties?addwatch=1

(5) http://www.abc.net.au/news/stories/2009/07/02/2614331.htm

Competing interests:
None declared

Competing interests: No competing interests

07 July 2009
Peter J Flegg
Consultant Physician
Blackpool FY3 8NR