A student’s ordeal with swine flu


Swine flu is a harsher form of the more usual seasonal flu virus. | Photo: Ben Chau

Over the past week there have been 9,000 cases of swine flu diagnosed around the country, almost double the amount of the week before, which has heightened awareness of the pandemic.

Student Brooke Charlesworth first realised she may have the illness when she developed strong flu symptoms.

“I woke up one morning and couldn’t move out of bed, I had to miss work. I felt really dizzy and sick, and I had a sore throat and a headache,” she said.

A few days later she started to think it might be swine flu, and tried to use the online diagnosis tool, but “the website had so much traffic I couldn’t get onto it”. So Brooke rang the helpline and wasn’t waiting for too long before a woman answered the phone.

“She asked about my symptoms and she was quite worried because I’m asthmatic. She gave me a Tamiflu code and my mum, who was my flu buddy, collected it for me,” said Brooke.

The helpline and flu buddy system is designed to keep swine flu patients away from the hospitals and doctor’s surgery, but it does mean that they don’t get face-to-face time with NHS staff. Brooke was left to take her course of medication and wait for the results.

Brooke explained: “I took the medication three times a day for five days. It wasn’t a nice experience. I constantly felt sick, and my headache and throat got worse. After the five days I still felt ill so I went to the doctors. They said I had pharyngitis but I couldn’t take anything for it because I’d just finished my course of medication. I was advised to just take paracetamol and rest.”

After waiting for another week her condition worsened, and Brooke was forced to return to the doctor.  She was then told she had laryngitis and was given penicillin. In total she’d been ill for 3 weeks, and it does raise the question whether she actually had swine flu in the first place.

Brooke still expresses her confidence in the NHS despite her ordeal. “I wouldn’t say the NHS were unhelpful. They did give me the Tamiflu, but I was disappointed that they just left my sore throat to get better by itself,” she said.

Her over-the-phone diagnosis of swine flu still has its repercussions though, when she is questioned about having the illness upon returning to the doctor’s surgery.

Brooke said, “It’s awkward to book doctor’s appointments now because they still ask if I’ve had swine flu. I went recently just for a check-up and I had to sit in my own waiting room away from everyone else, but this was two weeks after I’d had swine flu!”.

Things may now be set to change as the swine flu vaccine Pandemrix is given the go-ahead in the UK by the European drugs regulator, and will be given to adults and children over six-months-old and pregnant women. This should result in patients getting actual face time with NHS staff before they are prescribed any medication.

Mock ups of the vaccine have been developed in preparation for a pandemic, and have been tested by volunteers. Reported side effects include headaches, joint pain, fever and fatigue. There will soon be a portal on the swine flu website to report any side effects that the vaccine may have caused.

The jab will first be available to those over 65 and other high-risk individuals, particularly those with underlying diseases. It will also be available to NHS staff from Monday November 26th. The first batch of the vaccine has already been given to hospital staff this week.

3 Responses to A student’s ordeal with swine flu

  1. Sean says:

    Uptake of the new swine flu vaccine among NHS staff is set to be low as many have fear over its safety. Swine Flu UK

  2. Steven Benbow says:

    I had exactly the same symptoms, I couldn’t stand up as my body ached so much, I had no sense of balance, fever, being sick, sore throat and a headache on top of that.
    I rang the local surgery and they would not take me for a check up to see if I had regular flu or anything else.

    They told me to ring a number which put me through to basically a call centre who diagnosed me with swine flu.
    How they know this without seeing me is beyond me they are real magicians in this call centre.

    After this joke I looked up the side effects of Tamiflu and after seeing that people with kidney problems should not take (which I was not told over the phone) I decided against it.

    Thankfully after drinking lots and taking paracetamol most of my symptoms were gone within 5-7 days.

    I think it’s ludacris that I could not see a doctor just because everyone is so panicked about swine flu, and as for the call centre shame on the people who trains them to not pre-warn you about if you can actually take it or not.

    We just need to accept that the general flu season is coming up so there will be more cases of flu (but 80-90% of these cases will be reported as swine flu)

  3. Beatrice says:

    I think that in Asian countries the swine flu did not spread rapidly compared to those countries that are located in colder climates. We should still be very thankful that the swine flu did not cause massive infections.