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Doctors downplay bird flu risk


Only half of European doctors with an interest in infectious diseases in children believe an influenza pandemic resulting from an avian strain is very likely, according to a study published online ahead of print in the Archives of Disease in Childhood.

Nevertheless, a sizeable minority keeps a supply of the antiviral drug oseltamivir at their disposal, just in case.

The figures are based on the views of 161 doctors, mostly European (50% from the UK), attending a conference. The delegates were asked to answer a series of questions on avian flu using an anonymous electronic voting system and a question about their seniority so the results could be categorised.

Only 44.7% believed a human flu pandemic, arising from either a mutation of an avian influenza virus or reassortment with a human strain, was “almost inevitable” or “very likely”. The majority thought it was only “possible” and 9.9% thought it was “unlikely” or “very unlikely”.

However, 7.9% of 139 respondents admitted they had a supply of the neuraminidase inhibitor oseltamivir for personal or family use despite strong recommendations against this. Only one of the 27 consultants in infectious diseases had a supply compared with five out of 29 senior registrars or fellows.

The study authors speculated that perhaps this was because the more junior doctors in infectious diseases had “a perceived higher risk of exposure”.

“Despite evidence to the contrary that has received widespread exposure in both the medical and lay press, over half of these physicians (who are likely to have a more than average interest in and knowledge about avian influenza) did not believe the risk of an imminent influenza pandemic was more than a possibility,” the researchers said.

Associate Professor Nigel Curtis, head of the Infectious Diseases Unit at the Royal Children’s Hospital Melbourne, Australia, commented: “This survey highlights that, like many other doctors and the public alike, there was a degree of complacency amongst the doctors surveyed with regard to the evidence and expert opinion that there is a significant risk of an imminent flu pandemic for which we need to be prepared.”

Online First Archives of Disease in Childhood. doi: 10.1136/adc.2007.120469


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