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Human Swine Flu A(H1N1) - What can we learn from Australia?


What can we learn from Australia?

Article Date: Monday 14 09 09 13:50 UTC
Full Article: BBC NEWS | Fergus On Flu

I want to begin with a confession. In recent weeks, my contribution to this blog has been somewhat patchy; for that, my apologies. It's felt a bit like when I look out of the window at my garden. I know there is work to be done, but it's finding the time - at least that's my excuse for an unkempt lawn.

walsh in australiaI've been working on an edition of Panorama about swine flu to be broadcast on Wednesday 16 September. Its rather ambitious title is: "Swine flu: Everything you need to know". I'll be interested to get your feedback. The other presenters are Sophie Raworth and Jeremy Vine.

For part of the film I went to Australia, which has been in the grip of the worst flu season for 40 years. It felt strange walking around Sydney with the temperature at 27C and knowing this was deep midwinter. No-one has quite been able to explain to me why flu should be so rampant in such hot temperatures. I'm told that in the tropics, where it's hot all year round, there is no flu season.

walsh in australiaHow has Australia fared? The H1N1 virus did not bring society to a halt, and there were no food or power shortages: so far, so good. But there was increased absenteeism from work. And the health service has been extremely busy with hospital intensive care units under immense pressure.

I visited several hospitals in Sydney which had all had to cancel planned surgery at the peak of the winter, in order to cope with the influx of patients with severe respiratory problems. Last week, UK health officials confirmed that they were prepared to take similar measures, if and when needed.

The video below shows an excerpt from the programme plus some extra interview material with Professor Robert Booy from Westmead Children's Hospital in Sydney. He was incredibly helpful in suggesting where we filmed in Australia and has been quoted many times already in this blog.

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I got to meet some of his patients, including 18-month-old Emily, and her mother Louise. Emily has leukaemia and H1N1 swine flu. She was at increased risk of complications from the virus, but received prompt treatment with Tamiflu and is doing well.

You'll also hear from Professor Booy assessing the threat from swine flu and talking about the problems associated with obesity.

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