News & Current Affairs

July 19, 2009

Swine flu pregnancy tips reissued

Swine flu pregnancy tips reissued

A pregnant woman

A suppressed immune system makes pregnant women more vulnerable

The Department of Health has attempted to clarify its guidelines to expectant mothers and parents with children under five on how best to avoid swine flu.

Its advice to practise good hygiene by washing hands and surfaces regularly has been re-issued after a woman with the virus died soon after giving birth.

The Royal College of Midwives (RCM) says all expectant mothers should avoid crowded places and unnecessary travel.

But the DoH says only the “particularly concerned” should consider the advice.

Concern over the effects of swine flu on new and expectant mothers has heightened since the death of Ruptara Miah, 39, in London’s Whipps Cross Hospital on 13 July. Her baby is said to be very ill in intensive care.

Good hygiene

Another child under six months old, who died in London, is also among the latest victims of the virus.

The refreshed DoH advice has been given greater prominence on its website.

Health experts say expectant mothers could suffer possible complications if they contract swine flu, such as pneumonia, breathing difficulties and dehydration, because they have suppressed immune systems. Young children are also vulnerable.

Most mothers-to-be with swine flu are being prescribed Relenza, an inhaled antiviral drug which treats the virus without reaching the foetus. However, where it is particularly severe, doctors can offer Tamiflu instead.

The NHS website stresses that most expectant mothers who contract swine flu will only have mild symptoms and recover within a week.

Belinda Phipps, chief executive of the National Childbirth Trust (NCT), said that while the risks for expectant mothers were low, women needed information to make an informed decision.

“If you are pregnant, you are slightly more susceptible to all infections. One of them is swine flu.

“It is important that pregnant women know that – and particularly other members of the population know that – so that they behave responsibly and if they are sick they don’t go and put themselves close to a pregnant woman.”

If you are pregnant, you are slightly more susceptible to all infections. One of them is swine flu
Belinda Phipps, NCT

The Department of Health said it advised women to plan their pregnancy carefully, but was not advising against trying to conceive.

“Mums-to-be are more vulnerable to any type of flu. It is particularly important that anyone who has existing health problems and is thinking about starting a family should talk to their GP first, as they normally would,” a DoH spokesman said.

Louise Silverton, deputy general secretary of the RCM, said women could not be expected to wait for the first wave of the pandemic to end before trying for a baby.

Speaking on BBC One’s Andrew Marr Show, Alan Johnson, the new home secretary, said an unexpected aspect of the virus was that it was attacking the young, not the elderly as with seasonal flu.

He called on parents to keep using their common sense, saying the “vast majority” had been following public health advice.

Rates of flu-like illness

Twenty-nine people have now died in the UK after contracting swine flu – 26 in England and three in Scotland.

The government has warned that the number of deaths from the virus this winter in the UK could reach between 19,000 and 65,000.

However, during the 1999 to 2000 winter, seasonal flu deaths reached 21,000 and even during average winters there are normally anywhere between 6,000 to 8,000 deaths.

Swine flu public health poster

The National Flu Service will go live at the end of next week


We asked you whether you were concerned about the effects swine flu might have on expectant mothers. Here is a selection of your comments.

I am in the third trimester of pregnancy, and I am asthmatic. I am concerned that neither Tamiflu or Relenza will be suitable for me if I contract swine flu.
Louise, Nottingham

This is such stupid advice. I am pregnant and travel to work every day on a packed Tube. How am I supposed to avoid crowded places and unnecessary travel? It’s impossible. I can’t just stop going to work can I?
Laura, Hertfordshire

My daughter has a 4yr old son who has swine flu, she is 4 months pregnant and worried in case she catches it and it harms the baby, we are also worried about the treatments used in pregnant women. There is to much contradiction going around to know what to believe.
Tina, Essex

I am currently 24 weeks pregnant and have been ill and at home for 5 days now with bad cold symptoms. After consulting the doctor by phone I was told it could possibly be swine flu but how am I to know? I am usually very level headed in these situations but not sure that not swabbing pregnant women with symptoms is wise – at least if we know if we have it we can be better informed!
Anonymous, Wales

I am 36 weeks pregnant and came into contact with Swine flu last week. I experienced a slight sore throat spoke with a nurse at NHS direct and my GP and was completely reassured that I was fine and not displaying any symptoms. There is definitely some scaremongering going on but if you seek appropriate medical advice your fears can be eased.
Jo, Romford, Essex

I have got a 14 month old child and am currently pregnant. I’m very worried we could all catch the virus as a lot of people where we live are getting it. Also it is going round schools where my niece goes. I believe there should be vaccinations soon as possible for young children and those who it could endanger more than others
Nikki, Chelmsford, Essex

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September 19, 2008

Survey turns hill into a mountain

Survey turns hill into a mountain

Snowdonia including Mynydd Graig Goch  on the left

New mountain Mynydd Graig Goch is on the far left (Picture: ‘Envirodata-Eryri’)

A Welsh hill has been upgraded to a mountain after three walkers found its official measurement was just too low.

Mynydd Graig Goch in Snowdonia was originally put at 1,998ft (609m), just short of the magic 2,000ft (609.6m) that qualifies as a mountain.

But the walkers found its true height is six inches over 2,000ft (609.75m).

Their efforts have echoes of the 1995 film set in Wales which starred Hugh Grant as The Englishman Who Went Up a Hill But Came Down a Mountain.

In director Chris Monger’s quirky comedy, a Welsh community fought the attempts of two English cartographers to downgrade their local mountain to a hill.

In real-life too, Welsh pride in its rugged landscape has triumphed.

Now it is hoped that Ordnance Survey will alter its maps after the discovery by John Barnard, Myrddyn Phillips and Graham Jackson.

Welsh peaks have attracted tourists for generations, and its latest mountain takes the total number at or above 2,000ft to 190.

Before the survey, however, the country only had three hills at 1,998ft: Mynydd Graig Goch and Craig Fach, both in Snowdonia, Gwynedd, and Mynydd Troed near Crickhowell, Powys.

It’s fantastic… nothing like this had happened before
Myrddyn Phillips

The three were confident Mynydd Troed was a hill, but suspected at least one of the peaks under scrutiny in Snowdonia was a mountain.

Using “state-of-the art” equipment supplied by Swiss firm Leica Geosystems, the trio used satellite positioning to gauge the height of the hills in Snowdonia.

Their survey confirmed that Craig Fach was a hill, standing at 1,997ft (608.75m), but further research showed Mynydd Graig Goch, at 609.75m, was slightly above the 2,000ft minimum for a mountain.

Rough weather

“It’s fantastic. Nothing like this had happened before,” said Mr Phillips, from Welshpool, Powys.

“We’re very pleased our survey has proved Mynydd Graig Goch is a mountain and not a hill.

“Ordnance Survey has agreed to update its maps (on the internet) straight away, but it might take a bit longer to correct the paper maps.”

Mr Phillips said the trio took on the task because they wanted to check the facts.

But he said Ordnance Survey spot height measurements had a margin of error of plus or minus 3m (9ft 8.8in) so it was hard to argue that its original measurement was wrong.

The three spent two hours taking 7,000 readings on Mynydd Graig Goch as part of the survey on 11 August, and the rough weather played its part too, said Mr Phillips.

“Winds between 40 – 50 mph (64-80kph) made things quite difficult for us and it rained, but it was worth it.”

September 10, 2008

Antibiotic resistance rise fears

Antibiotic resistance rise fears

Antibiotic pills

The NHS is being warned about its use of antibiotics

The rise in antibiotic resistance is reaching worrying levels, experts say.

The Health Protection Agency said while the focus on infections such as MRSA had been largely successful, new trends in other bugs were now posing a threat.

For instance, 12% of bloodstream infections by E. coli in England, Wales and Northern Ireland now show some signs of not responding to drugs.

The HPA said the NHS must be careful over antibiotic use and urged industry to look into developing new drugs.

There are two main families of bacteria known as gram-positive, such as MRSA, and gram-negative, which includes E. coli and other less common bugs Acinetobacter and Pseudomonas.

There are some cracks in the system, but they are not big ones yet
Dr David Livermore, of the HPA

The HPA said there had been a drive to tackle MRSA in recent years which had helped reduce infection rates and led to a host of new antibiotics to be developed.

By comparison, the development of antibiotics targeting gram-negative bacteria such as E coli, which can cause a range of symptoms from mild diarrohea to abdominal cramps and kidney damage, was much less common.

The fight against drug resistance is an on-going battle because many bacteria constantly mutate, gaining resistance to current antibiotics in the process.

This is what has been happening in recent years to the likes of E coli.

HPA data shows that there are about 20,000 bloodstream infections of E. coli each year – although the true level of infections would be much higher if urinary tract infections were taken into account.

Of these, 12% show signs of resistance – up from about 4% at the turn of the century.

The infections are mostly not yet resistant to all forms of antibiotics, just what doctors call the first-line.

This means they are having to use back up drugs, which tend to have more side effects and raises the prospect of the widespread emergence of a new strain which is totally antibiotic resistant.

Cases

Indeed, reports have already emerged of such a scenario in Israel and the US, while four cases have been reported in the UK.

Dr David Livermore, an infections expert at the HPA, urged industry to start looking at developing new antibiotics.

But he added: “The NHS must be careful over its use of antibiotics to slow down the development of resistance.

“Hospitals must make sure they use the right dose, for the right length of time.

“GPs should not prescribe – nor patients expect – antibiotics for routine coughs and colds.

“Resistance has been accumulating. We are having to use reserve antibiotics more than previously… that is worrying.

“There are some cracks in the system, but they are not big ones yet.”

August 28, 2008

For those too young to remember the Cold War…

For those too young to remember the Cold War…

WarGames

Before the days of flat screen monitors… and Perestroika

The conflict in Georgia has awoken fears of a new Cold War between Russia and its allies and the West, nearly 20 years after the fall of the Berlin Wall. But will the animosity come back to haunt Western imaginations as it once did?

“We share the same biology,
regardless of ideology.
Believe me when I say to you,
I hope the Russians love their children too”

That couplet might be a mere piece of lyrical doggerel to any listener born after 9 November 1989, but when Sting released the single Russians in 1985, it came out of a deep mine of anxiety in the West about the course of the Cold War.

Sting

A good period in which to make profound statements…

For nearly five decades, the Cold War provided a rich seam running right through popular culture in the West, throwing out films, music, novels and even computer games that carried the fears, conscious and subconscious, of millions.

In the 1950s, science fiction movies were often allegories about different aspects of Cold War politics. Invasion of the Body-Snatchers was interpreted as a reference to McCarthy-era paranoia, Invaders from Mars as a parable of communist infiltration, and the Day the Earth Stood Still as a simple fantasy that some higher supernatural power would come to try and sort everything out.

After the world reached the brink of war during the Cuban Missile Crisis in 1962, there was another wave of Cold War-inspired fiction, with Stanley Kubrick’s Dr Strangelove perhaps the most notable example.

With the detente of the 1970s the Cold War thread became less noticeable, but with worsening relations in the early 1980s, both sides of the Atlantic were suddenly replete with fictional Cold War dystopian scenarios.

On the British side people were treated to the agonisingly poignant graphic novel When the Wind Blows by Raymond Briggs and its film adaptation, as well as 1984’s Threads, about the terrifying aftermath of a nuclear strike. On the other side of the Atlantic, there were the mini-series Amerika and World War III, and the gruesome The Day After with its vivid montages of men, women, children and even horses being vaporized.

Frankie Goes to Hollywood

…and ripe for sensational scare-mongering

On the silver screen WarGames explored the issue of computer hacking against a background of mutually assured destruction , while Red Dawn took the usual brat pack characters complete with preppy letterman jackets, and armed them with AK-47s to fight a Soviet invasion of the US. Popular attitudes towards the Eastern Bloc were shaped by movies like Rocky IV, where the drug cheat Ivan Drago was emblematic of suspicions held against Soviet athletes.

As well as Sting’s Russians, Frankie Goes To Hollywood’s chart-topper Two Tribes provided a musical accompaniment to the era. It seems strange to discuss now what was, even then, viewed as often laughable ephemera, but the course of popular culture reflected deep-seated fears, particularly significant among those too young to temper their concerns with a grasp of the political context.

Almost as soon as it had intensified, the Cold War quickly ebbed away, and by the end of the 1989, with the Berlin Wall coming down and relations defrosting across the whole of eastern Europe, it suddenly became a bit silly to pick the Soviet state as baddies.

Hollywood had to find new protagonists for a new zeitgeist, and fast.

Bond sabbatical

While rarely casting Russia itself as the main enemy in a storyline, and indeed often featuring a sympathetic KGB general, the James Bond franchise was unmistakably driven by Cold War themes of espionage and fear of weapons technology. It was inevitably affected, says film critic James King.

It was a competition to be modern – consumer society was used as a bulwark against communism
Jane Pavitt

“Bond went into limbo for seven years, for many reasons, but one was that it didn’t feel relevant any more.

“The first film I remember that actually caught up was True Lies. When that came out it was almost a James Bond film and it had a new Hollywood enemy, which was an Arab – this was the new thing.”

Post 9/11 there has been a glut of movies either tackling the threat of terrorism, attacking the politics of the war on terror and Guantanamo Bay, as well as a host of television programmes that have explored the fall-out for Muslim communities on both sides of the Atlantic. A poster for the current movie Shoot on Sight – with its tag line “Is it a crime to be a Muslim?” – is typical.

In the space between the end of the Cold War and Islamist terrorism entering the mainstream mindset as the main threat to the West, movie producers did their best to come up with convincing action movie baddies.

Having been conceived long before the fall of the wall, the Hunt for Red October, an adaptation of Tom Clancy’s 1984 novel, still performed well at the box office in 1990. But in projects conceived after the end of Cold War hostilities, the baddies are very often neo-nationalists or rebels trying to destabilise a friendly Russia (Crimson Tide and Air Force One) or are avaricious terrorists and gangsters of other nationalities (Die Hard).

Cold War the Sequel

The effect of the end of the Cold War on secret services and military personnel came to be a major theme. John Le Carre was one of those spy novel authors who made the transition smoothly. The Russia House marked the last of his novels released during the Cold War, the next three deal with the effect of the thaw on intelligence operatives, while the subsequent four, including the Tailor of Panama and the Constant Gardener are not directly related to the Cold War. But Hodder and Stoughton, his publisher, maintain sales of the Cold War novels were unaffected by the events of 1989.

Threads

Threads – not your average prime-time BBC drama

King is sceptical about whether current Cold War fears will quickly feed back into popular culture.

“Films take a while to get on the screen – I don’t think we will see anything for a year.”

Film producers and publishers may also feel that with the long lead times, tensions could be defused by the time anything gets to market.

They are returning to Cold War classics but not necessarily because of modern fears over relations between the West and Russia. WarGames was recently remade as a straight-to-DVD release although terrorism underpinned the story rather than a renewed Cold War. It has also been recently reported that Red Dawn is to be remade, although the exact plot is unclear.

But as well as those cultural products directly referencing or making allusions to the Cold War, the conflict also provided the backdrop to massive shifts and vigorous battles in everything from product design and modern art to fashion, says Jane Pavitt, curator of the Cold War Modern exhibition opening next month at the Victoria and Albert Museum.

“It was a competition to be modern,” says Pavitt. “Consumer society was used as a bulwark against communism in Europe in the 1950s. That’s why fashion and kitchen goods can be seen as part of this.”

For those who were too young to remember the Berlin Wall coming down, or were born afterwards, the unique fears of the Cold War era, and the popular culture they steered, may be hard to appreciate.

But for anyone over the age of 25 in the West, they remain a deeply significant part of our psyche.


Add your comments on this story.

What about Soviet / Eastern Bloc popular culture during the cold war – was it also full of espionage dramas and ‘what if’ nuclear bomb scenarios? As someone old enough to remember it from a British perspective, I realise I have no idea at all how it was perceived and represented in media the other side of the Iron Curtain. I’m sure there is a level of propaganda and also aware that creativity was somewhat stifled, but is there a parallel strand of writing/drama/film-making that we’re all ignorant of over here?
WorldGirl, Enfield, UK

I have grown up at the other side of the Iron Curtain and can assure you: the fear that the Cold War would spiral out of control was just as real on our side, only that we expected the West to make the first move. This was reflected in our popular culture in a similar way as was quoted in the article. I used to think: perhaps both sides are just too afraid of each other, perhaps such fears could be calmed by assuring each other that “we” would not make the first move. However, my views have changed a bit over the years. Having seen how readily the West is prepared to enter into a war (Yugoslavia, twice in Iraq, Afghanistan) and how openly it encroaches on Russia’s borders by supporting various colour-coded revolutions, I am beginning to wonder who was indeed the more aggressive side. For anyone getting into a rage about this posting: just for one moment, try to forget our view that we are always right and that our view on democracy justifies any means to spread it around the world. Try to be unbiased and then read again what I said.
Holger Laux, Bristol, UK

It’s interesting, and perhaps significant, that in times of national perceived potential threat from outside, so much creativity happens. I remember vividly the tension of the 1980s, the big changes in the UK and around the world. In some ways, it was an exciting time because every new day could bring danger. Is that what we humans survive on and does it draw us together?
Krystyna, Sedgley

In the mid 1980’s I can remember being in a 6th form who generally agreed that they would not live to be 30 because nuclear war was both imminent and inevitable. A strange mix of living a normal life but with the constant knowledge of impending disaster. This is probably why I felt so uneasy with the worsening relationship between Russia and the West. The world is, in my opinion, much less stable than it was in the 80s and the politicians are much more dangerous and paranoid than Maggie/Ronnie/Andropov/Chernenko.
John Ferris, Coventry, UK

I’m 27 and can just about remember the Berlin Wall coming down, though I can’t say I remember much more about the cold war. I’d raise your threshold to at least 30!
James, London

How true. I was only nine years old when they installed an air raid siren to the roof of our school. There were lots of discussions about what we would do with our last three minutes of life before the bombs arrived. It sounds trivial now but at the time we were convinced it would happen.
Dawn, Redhill

Reading the above it confirms my gut feeling that it is the Media that stir up scenarios causing more trouble than most just by publishing half of the story and twisting the facts. Even the BBC has succumbed to the drum of the gutter press by allowing the papers to show headlines on some of their programmes such as Breakfast, the BBC does not need to give the like of these people air time they have enough journalists to concoct their own stories, so why of why do they (BBC) despoil their standards with drivel?
Robert, Liverpool

I was born in 1985 so missed the hysteria, but we were subjected to ‘Threads’ in school. I didn’t sleep for weeks and when I did I dreamt of that cat on fire and the melting milk bottles! Haven’t been to Sheffield since!!
Martin Doyle, St Albans

Threads was an excellent – and terrifying – story, and was also the first ‘post-holocaust drama’ to incorporate the concept of the nuclear winter, which had only recently been realised. And it was more than just a story: it included occasional subtitles to spell out what would be happening. It’s hardly likely to get repeated (and would in all likelihood be out of date with its figures), but as an illustration of why not to play with nuclear weapons it was second to none.
Ruaraidh Gillies, Wirral, UK

Please stop doing this. Drumming up panic when there is no need. Even Russia has said they don’t want another cold war. There is NO crisis, just sabre rattling as always.
Rich, UK

Yes a large influence on Culture of the 80’s when I grew up. I went into the RAF and ended up at Greenham Common on the other side from the peace camp. I have still have a Cold War playlist on my iPod with tracks like ‘Two Tribes’, ‘Mad World’ and ’19’. Recent Computer games like Operation Flashpoint also hark back to the Cold War 80s. Are we going into a Second Cold War. Yes and there is nothing the West can do.
Simon CS, Farnham, Surrey, UK

The Cold War was fun and inspired some great films.
Matt, Philadelphia USA

Let’s hope that we don’t go back to the scare-mongering of the early eighties. For once I would like to think that today’s youngsters are a bit de-sensitised to the whole ‘we’re all going to die’ thoughts portrayed back then. I myself started digging out a bunker at the age of seven for our family to shelter in. When I was discovered I claimed it was a copy of Percy Thrower’s Blue Peter sunken garden!!!
Jenny, Wolves

I remember being absolutely terrified of nuclear war growing up. It was an all too real possibility. The intro to “Two Tribes” used to frighten me, and “Threads” is just as disturbing to watch now as it ever was. We also had the misfortune to live nine miles from the RAF/US Navy bases and oil refineries making us a prime target. When the Air Force did their low-flying exercises in the middle of the night, I’d lie awake waiting for a bomb blast to follow. That said, I think the idea of being nuked at any moment really beefed up Western popular culture at the time.
Mandi, Cardiff, Wales

They don’t need to drop the bomb. Russia has between 1/4 and 1/3 of the world’s oil and natural gas.

All they have to do is turn the taps off.
Philip Le Roux, Aldershot HANTS UK

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