We have spoken recently with a holidaymaker who took a short break in England. He decided to spend a long week-end in Cardiff and booked into a hotel near to the airport. On the day of his arrival he reports that he was not suffering with any health problems. Further, he also reports that the room was clean and tidy, with no debris left behind by any previous guest. Within a day, he began to complain of feeling cold and toward the end of the week-end was suffering with a bad throat, aching in the back of his legs, high temperature, no energy and a dry cough. The holidaymaker believed that he was developing flu.
They did what any other holidaymaker would do, they self-treated with flu preparations. On the Monday he returned home, but by Tuesday he was feeling much worse, his glands were up and reports that his throat had worsened. He waited for several more days and decided that he should visit his GP.
When he saw his GP, he was asked if he had been to Mexico or met anyone at the airport or the hotel who had been to Mexico - he had not! His Doctor advised that he had all the stated symptoms of Swine Flu and that he would notify the Health Protection Agency (HPA). He was advised to go home, isolate himself , not go to work for one week and he was prescribed with anti-biotics (not Tamiflu) for a 'chest infection'. He was told that he could not leave the surgery by the main entrance and left by the back door!
Expecting a call from the HPA, he was concerned that he did not receive that call after several hours. He decided that he would call his Doctors surgery only to be told by the 'receptionist' that the HPA was not being informed - he had not gone to Mexico and was only suffering with a cold!
Naturally this holidaymaker was quite angry and explained that he had been given specific instructions and information from his GP and wanted the action taken, that was detailed by the GP. He also demanded that he be swabbed tested for confirmation on whether he had swine flu.
The 'receptionist' told him that he would not be swab tested and again told him that he only had a cold! It seemed to this holidaymaker that no one was making the connection with the fact that he had stayed in an airport hotel for the week-end!
This holidaymaker insisted that the receptionist speak with the Doctor and she then discovered that the GP had indeed requested that the HPA be contacted!
Several hours later, the HPA contacted the holidaymaker and advised that they had received no reports of cases in Cardiff. Further they advised that he would not be swabbed and they were not swabbing anyone who had not been to Mexico! The HPA also advised that they would not be checking with the airport hotel or making any enquiries with them - the HPA contact then stated that with a hotel, people were coming and going all the time and it would be difficult to track the movements of guests! He was however told that in the County where he lives, they had only received two referrals, the other case was clearly someone suffering with a chest infection - he was advised that it certainly appeared that he was displaying the symptoms of swine flu.
The HPA contact went onto advise that had he been to Mexico he would have been defintely swabbed - on being challenged that he had stayed in an airport hotel, the HPA contact stated that he would have had to have been in the company of someone with Swine Flu, who was coughing and sneezing for a whole hour, before he would have been at risk (how does that fit in with the recent TV adverts - you know, the one where the man sneezes in the lift?)!
Our holidaymaker was off work for a week and took the view that he and those who were with him, should have been swabbed (one in the party is a teacher)!
Given the many thousands of holidaymakers who were repatriated from Mexico, surely we should have a greater sense of urgency and organisation in the investigation of this major health problem? It seems that we are grossly underestimating the seriousness of this problem as highlighted by the BBC today!
In some ways we are not so surprised; the annual return of Salmonella, Giardia, Shigella, Dysentery, Cryptosporidium - so-called Norovirus - all seemingly goes un-monitored by the HPA and Health Port Authorities. Planes come into the UK and they fly out again - uncleaned - and those returning, return to work in our schools, hospitals, old peoples homes and food production plants!
Isn't it time for a more joined up approach to the monitoring of returning holiday illnesses?
After all, we are dealing with bio-hazards, aren't we?
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