Tom Nolan: Confusion over flu advice in pregnancy

Government deliver new advice for pregnant women

A storm erupted over the weekend about the government’s advice to pregnant women on swine flu. It all started with the National Childbirth Trust issuing advice that suggested that women consider delaying conception, as their director Belinda Phipps explains:

“Following the death of a pregnant woman on Friday we brought together in a Q&A all the disparate bits of advice out there. Since then, the DoH has changed their minds and said what they were saying about [delaying] conception wasn’t sensible at all.”

The old advice was written with bird flu in mind admitted a government spokesman, and hadn’t been updated to take into account the milder nature of swine flu. The new advice states:

“If you are pregnant, you can reduce your risk of infection by avoiding unnecessary travel and avoiding crowds where possible. Pregnant women should also follow the general hygiene advice.”

Trying to put this advice into practice is proving difficult for many women, as shown by this comment on the BBC website.

This is such stupid advice. I am pregnant and travel to work every day on a packed Tube. How am I supposed to avoid crowded places and unnecessary travel? It’s impossible. I can’t just stop going to work can I?
Laura, Hertfordshire

Women are concerned and worried about this according to an online poll.

A poll on Netmums, a parenting website, found that 30% of respondents were “really worried” about swine flu. The poll found that 48% of the 3,446 respondents were “concerned, although I know most people who get it don’t suffer much and I generally think we’ll be ok”.

It’s amazing that 48% of respondents have such similar and detailed views on swine flu. Perhaps there’s not as much confusion as we thought.

Airlines put an end to Swine Flew

Airlines British Airways and Virgin Atlantic will refuse to allow passengers who are displaying symptoms of swine flu to board planes. A spokesman for Virgin Atlantic said:

“If there are signs of something being wrong, be it excessive sneezing or coughing, not looking well, or high temperature, then the airport staff can call in a medical team for extra advice.”

“If the medical team believe there are reasons not to fly, the passenger will be asked to produce a fit-to-fly certificate from their doctor or a hospital, and they will be put at our cost on to the next available flight.”

On the news today they were discussing whether this was fair, but surely many will find this news reasonable and even reassuring – you don’t want your summer holidays in the Balerics to be spoilt by swine flu. The real question is: why wasn’t this happening already? Might they be accused of shutting the stable (or cabin) door after the horse has bolted?

BBC not panicking by stocking up on Tamiflu

The BBC have been accused of stockpiling Tamiflu after it was revealed that they’ve bought 4000 doses of the drug. Reports that their health correspondent’s blog ‘Fergus on Flu’ is to be renamed ‘Fergus on Tamiflu’ are entirely fictitious.

Tom Nolan is the clinical community editor of doc2doc, the BMJ’s professional networking community.