The influenza season draws to a close. But the virus isn’t going quietly. Monday 2 April started early for me with an interview on the Today programme about the sensible decision by the US National Science Advisory Board for Biosecurity to give up trying to censor papers describing the enhancement of bird flu infectivity in ferrets. I covered the same story for Good Morning Scotland. The benefits of knowing about potentially nasty mutations before they take us by surprise far outweigh any risks from al-Qaida virologists.
Interviewed later in the day by Tay FM and the Dundee Courier about several sudden deaths at a care home in Broughty Ferry (the posh Dundee suburb). Flu confirmed. Another interview with BBC Scotland on Tuesday evening about the same.
Wednesday teatime, the Belfast Telegraph calls asking for a piece about the interim independent report on deaths in neonatal units in December and January caused by pseudomonas. Most of the infected babies were washed with tap water when they had their nappies changed: the taps were the problem.
Thursday: Good Morning Scotland. Another Broughty Ferry interview: is the outbreak over? Seven deaths so far.
Friday: a copy of the Belfast Telegraph arrives. Seven flu deaths at a care home near Buncrana, Donegal.
These flu events are typical. Outbreaks with high mortality in care homes are not rare. Almost certainly the infections were caused by influenza A H3N2, the dominant seasonal virus for many years. Like all viruses it mutates. Maybe the Broughty Ferry and Buncrana outbreaks were facilitated by a new mutation, not a big change but enough to mean that the vaccine was less effective.
These flu stories remained local. So does flu most of the time. One of the failed predictions about swine flu was that it would sweep rapidly across the country. It didn’t.
There is some good news: the flu vaccine for 2012-13 will contain the new H3N2 virus.