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Four In Five Swine Flu 'Patients' Did Not Have Disease

Posted by ObeMike Wednesday, December 9, 2009


Four out of five people who called the swine flu line for Tamiflu did not actually have the disease, new figures have shown.
By Rebecca Smith, Medical Editor

Around one million doses of Tamiflu have so far been given out, but according to the figures, hundreds of thousands of packets could have been wasted as most people with symptoms of flu did not have the H1N1 pandemic virus.

Random swabs taken by the Health Protection Agency show that four out of five people calling the National Pandemic Flu Service with symptoms of the disease, did not test positive for it.

At the end of the first wave of the pandemic in Britain, just one in twenty people calling the flu line with symptoms tested positive. 

It has led to allegations that millions of pounds has been wasted. 

The government has 33 million doses of Tamiflu with orders to extend this to 50 million and the drug, which shortens the length of the illness by around one day and reduces the likelihood of passing it on, was the major weapon in the fight against the pandemic until the vaccine became available.

The figures raised questions about the effectiveness of the flu line which uses lay people following a set of questions to determine if callers had swine flu and give them codes so they can collect Tamiflu.

Swabs taken on patients assessed by GPs revealed a much lower 'mis-diagnosis' rate but still around half of patients were found not to have the virus.

Expert advice is that people with swine flu should stay off work until their symptoms have completely cleared with around one week recommended but critics said if large numbers were 'mis-diagnosed' then they will have been off sick for longer than necessary.

While some people with flu symptoms did not have swine flu, other data from the HPA has found that millions may have had the H1N1 virus without any symptoms as tests discovered a larger proportion of people have been infected than previously thought.

The latest official figures suggest the worst of the second wave of the pandemic may be over but it has been warned that the NHS could still be in for a busy winter if ordinary seasonal flu replaces swine flu and takes hold after Christmas.

Mark Wallace, Campaign Director of the TaxPayers’ Alliance, said: “These errors have a large cost to the NHS and a huge cost to the economy.

“These errors mean that large numbers of people have been given Tamiflu, or at the very least have been quarantined at home for days unnecessarily. 

“If the call centres were so inaccurate, then it suggests this was more about PR than medical treatment." 

Prof Steve Field, chairman of the Royal College of GPs, said the launch of the flu line was vital to ease pressure on family doctors at the height of the first wave of the pandemic.

He said: "Calls and appointments to GPs dropped immediately after it went live, it was very important. Influenza is very difficult to diagnose and because it has been a relatively mild disease for most people the symptoms have been very similar to a bad cold or seasonal flu but for some people it has been very serious.

"The use of Tamiflu probably prevented a lot more people from becoming seriously ill and helped those with the disease to get back to work sooner than if they had not been given it."

Liberal Democrat Shadow Health Secretary, Norman Lamb, said: “These figures are a damning indictment of the government’s approach to tackling swine flu.

“Ministers had years to prepare for such an outbreak but completely failed to put in place an effective Flu-line service.

“While protecting people during an outbreak has to be the priority we cannot escape the fact that an enormous amount of money has been wasted by giving people drugs they simply didn’t need.”

A spokesman for the Health Protection Agency said: “The Health Protection Agency routinely tests samples from patients visiting their GP with flu-like illness and callers to the National Pandemic Flu Service.

“During a flu season, positivity rates for flu will fluctuate. The higher the positivity rate seen through sampling, the greater likelihood that there is more flu circulating. During a flu season, of all the samples tested only a proportion will be positive for flu – this can be as high as 60-70 per cent during the peak of a flu season.”

A spokesman for the Department of Health, said: "Antivirals have a key role to play in managing swine flu - they help reduce symptoms and protect patients with 'flu like illnesses from developing complications and it remains the best line of defence for those not in at-risk groups.

"The NPFS has taken a heavy burden away from GPs - services for other patients would have suffered if GPs were expected to see every suspected swine flu case. Swabbing every patient would never be possible and would have jeopardised patient care. "The algorithm used by NPFS to manage patients was developed by extensive consultation with the medical Royal Colleges and other professional bodies.

"Our response has been proportionate, appropriate, and as cost effective as possible."

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