Swine flu hotline could leave children at risk

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Britain’s national pandemic flu service hotline will be going live this afternoon, but could it leave children at risk from other potentially fatal infections?

The new pandemic flu service came to light as Ministers decided that the NHS was under too much pressure. NHS Direct has been receiving nearly four times the number of calls that are usually experienced during the winter.

 

The new swine flu hotline will be manned by 1,500 operators who are not medically trained. These operators will work through a computerised questionnaire to help determine whether the caller has swine flu, and if so, they will provide vouchers for antiviral medication.

However, the Meningitis Research Foundation (MRF) has stated that the decision to rely solely on the call centre could lead to cases of meningitis and septicaemia being missed. It is known that flu can cause viral meningitis, which is deadly if diagnosed too late. With the increase in flu cases, there is a high possibility that this could lead to more cases of meningitis and septicaemia.

In reply to the MRF statement, Peter Holden, the lead expert on swine flu for the British Medical Association said “The questionnaire is designed to weed out the 999 threats, like meningitis, right at the start. But this is mass medicine. It is inevitable that one or two will fall through the cracks.”

Christopher Head, chief executive of MRF said that if people use the hotline, then it is important to spot warning symptoms of meningitis early: cold hands and feet, severe pain in the limbs and joints, pale or mottled skin, stiff neck and a dislike of bright lights.

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