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The media is bringing Covid-era alarmism to swine flu

Headlines are once again exaggerating the risks of another virus. Credit: Getty

November 29, 2023 - 3:15pm

The UK Health Security Agency (UKHSA) detected the “first case” of a swine flu virus on Monday in North Yorkshire. Media reporting from the Guardian, Independent, Mirror, Sky News and BBC reported that the public should remain “vigilant” as the agency was “scrambling” to trace contacts for this “new strain” that had “jumped” from pigs. 

However as with Covid, these media headlines are once again exaggerating the risks of this virus.

First, the infected “case” had a mild respiratory illness, was never hospitalised and has fully recovered. With the winter flu season in full swing, this is far from newsworthy. Most of us come down with the sniffles a few times per year, due to hundreds of circulating viruses. Last season, UKHSA estimated 15,000 influenza deaths in England, 86% in those older than 65, which was below average. 

Second, the idea that this was really the “first case” of H1N2 in England this year is highly improbable. It was detected through a GP surveillance network linked to a lab with genomic sequencing, and the person reportedly does not work with pigs. That there has “only been” 50 cases of H1N2 globally since 2005, as reported by UKHSA and scientists, therefore seems fanciful. This is more common than we like to think.

It is also unclear how new this particular “clade” really is. Influenza A viruses circulate dynamically between pigs and people and display high genotypic diversity and reassortment. These are complex microbiological systems. Although there is scientific value in these surveillance networks, public panic is more a reflection of a malaise of too much information and an adrenaline hangover from Covid. Besides, the fact that H1N2 has also displayed mild clinical disease in UK pigs should reassure those concerned about “pandemic potential”.

Aside from its scientific value, it is probably useless for UKHSA to deploy contact tracing to “reduce any potential spread”. There are likely other undetected cases and, so far, H1N2 is believed to be inefficient at spreading from human-to-human. After spending £10 billion on a useless Covid test-and-trace system, the UK should be more sceptical of trying to contain mild respiratory viruses this way. 

We should also remember that panic does come with a price. Most of the public remembers swine flu from 2009. In this case, it was H1N1 and a public health emergency was declared by WHO. The UK spent £500 million stockpiling Tamiflu, an anti-viral later proved useless due to misleading clinical data and lack of transparency from the pharmaceutical industry. Mexico City went into the first lockdown, which lasted a week. Egypt needlessly slaughtered hundreds of thousands of pigs, precipitating a trash management crisis in Cairo. And a Swedish vaccination programme was responsible for hundreds of cases of narcolepsy, many in children. Yet the 2009 pandemic proved to be no more severe than an average influenza year. 

So, despite all of the talk about pandemic preparedness and the need to lock down faster and harder in the ongoing UK Covid Inquiry, media attention like that displayed this week should also remind us of the need to mitigate pandemic panics too.


Kevin Bardosh is a research professor and Director of Research for Collateral Global, a UK-based charity dedicated to understanding the collateral impacts of Covid policies worldwide.

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Steve Murray
Steve Murray
7 months ago

Thanks Kevin. My immediate reaction on reading about this case was “oh, here we go” and your description of it as a media “adrenaline hangover” from Covid fits the bill perfectly.
Incidentally, i think it’d be worth adding a brief description of your credentials in applied medical anthropology to the header of your articles, for the benefit of those who assume (from comments to previous articles) that you’re a journalist.

Robbie K
Robbie K
7 months ago
Reply to  Steve Murray

Not only is he a journalist, he’s a biassed one with an agenda.
Exagerrating the risk again.
Perhaps he hadn’t noticed that over 20 million people died from covid?

Steven Carr
Steven Carr
7 months ago
Reply to  Robbie K

And counting!
Because, of course, COVID still exists.

Bruno Lucy
Bruno Lucy
7 months ago
Reply to  Steven Carr

Tell you what…….let’s lock the whole world down until there isn’t one single illness, virus……etc …..that can kill us.
Store on books and dvd……cuz it might take a while
You were joking……..right ?

Steve Murray
Steve Murray
7 months ago
Reply to  Robbie K

Someone writing with a PhD in the aforementioned subject? Your reply is embarrassing; no wonder you’re not prepared to put your full name to it.

andrew harman
andrew harman
7 months ago
Reply to  Steve Murray

And can’t even spell biased.

Seb Dakin
Seb Dakin
7 months ago
Reply to  andrew harman

Perhaps he’s trying to claim the author has two bottoms.

iambic mouth
iambic mouth
7 months ago
Reply to  Robbie K

Oh, come on Robbie, we’re still waiting for the famous Sweden argument. And the one about GBD half-baked by fake scientists and conspiratorial minds. Don’t be shy here.

AC Harper
AC Harper
7 months ago
Reply to  Robbie K

According to Worldometer the number of COVID deaths is 6,944,766.
Where did you get your 20 million figure from?

Dave R
Dave R
7 months ago
Reply to  Robbie K

Bang on. Amazing, the hardcore denialism still here! Were you freedumbites honking (and defecating on doorsteps) in Ottawa, too?

R Wright
R Wright
7 months ago
Reply to  Robbie K

Died by Covid or died with Covid?

Bruno Lucy
Bruno Lucy
7 months ago
Reply to  Robbie K

On an 8 billions populated planet and an average death age of …..82…..most of them already sick with other diseases that would have taken them away within less than a year.
0,25 % of the world population…..that’s the tally that was deemed worth bringing the whole planet and its economy on its knees. Well done !!!

Last edited 7 months ago by Bruno Lucy
Daniel Pennell
Daniel Pennell
7 months ago

Well, they need another crisis to keep the totalitarian ball rolling.

David Lindsay
David Lindsay
7 months ago

Swine flew where? I always thought they proverbially couldn’t.

jane baker
jane baker
7 months ago
Reply to  David Lindsay

Yes,if this is a pandemic pigs may fly.

AC Harper
AC Harper
7 months ago

One of the after effects of COVID is said to be ‘long COVID’. Perhaps journalistic sensitivity to viral news is another after effect?

Bruno Lucy
Bruno Lucy
7 months ago

Here we go……..AGAIN !!!
I am baffled to read the UK covid inquiry is talking like…….we should have locked down sooner and harder.
The French did and now we read psychiatric hospitalisations are ahead of cancer …..thank you very much. The level of agression in the country…..precisely due to Covid lockdown where people were fined for not wearing a mask …..in the forest……or in their car ( in Nice ) is unbelievable. It s not me saying, but the result of several studies.
What did it bring apart from driving people raving mad ? Well, more deaths than in Sweden where there never was a lockdown.
If this swine flue story starts snowballing…….it will up to people not to be …….again….locked. But I am not holding my breath ……it will be the same

jane baker
jane baker
7 months ago
Reply to  Bruno Lucy

Lots of Quaking Brethren enjoying the orgasmic pleasure of being scared out of their wits and enjoyably infantiised by being told through every day what to do by Mummy and Daddy.

Doug Mccaully
Doug Mccaully
7 months ago

What panic? The media have reported a case of swine flu type illness in a single person. It reported that the infection was mild and that there is a low risk of person to person infection. Of course there should be contact tracing because we need to track these things and at this very low level of infection, contact tracing is cheap and easy. Not being able to detect every instance of species jumping is no reason to do nothing.

Robbie K
Robbie K
7 months ago
Reply to  Doug Mccaully

If it wasn’t taken seriously and more cases erupted I suspect the author would be tearing chunks out of those in charge like he is currently doing with the covid enquiry.

Doug Mccaully
Doug Mccaully
7 months ago
Reply to  Robbie K

If it wasn’t reported on, certain groups of people would be claiming there was a conspiracy to hide the truth. You can’t win with these people, come what may, they’ll confect a scandal.

iambic mouth
iambic mouth
7 months ago
Reply to  Robbie K

The term inquiry presupposes an action oriented toward truth. What you refer to is a mere show, where the culprits as well as results were identified beforehand. It’s a farce, not an an inquiry.

Ham Baguette
Ham Baguette
7 months ago
Reply to  Robbie K

Yep this author has minus brain cells. I’ve just been ill with a ‘mystery flu’ for the last week. Ten times worse than covid. I slept for 3 days straight. Got a gp appointment today and they’re going to get me some antibiotics for my secondary ear infection. Plus they’re going to test for the H1N2 strain as I live in Yorkshire. I’d like to see a Yorkshire wide lockdown if we’re in the mist of an epidemic. Prevention cost is a lot less significant than a costly pandemic. Where were these dumbfucks educated, definitely not at my school! Fact is doesn’t matter where they obviously didn’t listen, didn’t learn, and have no idea of the basic scientific literacy taught in schools. Yes I’m a teacher of science. Grow up and stop leaching on the hate for your own personal gains. It’s a shame to see we lack the ability to learn from our mistakes… (few examples, ww2, every pandemic since the black plague, swine flu 1978, 2009, SARS, MERS I could go on forever). Hopefully the author will realise their idiocy and delete/amend this article. They’re adding fuel to an already overwhelming fire. Where idiocy still rains as champion. Prevention is key, and you’re hindering our ability to do so. Get on google scholar and do some research before claiming to be a know it all, thanks for reading my TED talk birches 😉

Bruno Lucy
Bruno Lucy
7 months ago
Reply to  Robbie K

Taken seriously ??
this is just one case and the bloke is back on his feet. What more do you want ??? It sounds almost like you enjoyed being scared the hell out of your wit

Bruno Lucy
Bruno Lucy
7 months ago
Reply to  Doug Mccaully

Contact tracing ???
It came from a pig……in hiding now and I will protect my source :))

Last edited 7 months ago by Bruno Lucy
Carmel Shortall
Carmel Shortall
7 months ago
Reply to  Bruno Lucy

Oink! Oink!

jane baker
jane baker
7 months ago
Reply to  Doug Mccaully

If you listen to BBC Farming Today,it’s on radio 4 5.45am weekday,they are talking up Swine Flu on that. It’s a serious attempt to give the story legs!
I think they have reverted back to Swine Flu because Bird Flu never took off,lol. I recall back in January/February of this year hearing/seeing RSPB wardens telling us of seeing bird corpses strewn on the river banks and what a tragic sight it was. But oddly in our world that is weighed down by visual images,there was never any footage. Odd when now any of us can whip out a mobile phone. Hmm
Then all this year,it’s been a great year for birdsong in country AND town. It’s hard to instill into people fear and loathing of pretty twittery things but pigs is different.