GPs need new avian flu test to fight pandemic

GPs must have better clinical guidelines and tests to help diagnose avian flu in the event of a pandemic, according to UK researchers. By Sanjay Tanday

Provisional clinical guidelines from the DoH say GPs should perform nose and throat swabs in suspected cases of avian flu.  

But a report by the Royal Society and the Academy of Medical Sciences recommends that a test be developed to help GPs identify avian flu.

Professor Karl Nicholson, consultant physician and member of the report's working group said that GPs needed to distinguish between the major symptoms found in people with avian flu from those found in normal flu.

‘If you look at the large number of studies on influenza, right back to the 1930s, you find that there is a high incidence of symptoms like fever, muscle ache and sore throats,' he said.

‘People who have developed the current strain of H5N1 influenza have shown signs of liver abnormalities as well as the rest of the symptoms.'

The report recommends that a simple dipstick test be developed.

But Dr Douglas Fleming, director of the RCGP's flu unit said: ‘During a pandemic, GPs would have to suspect everyone with symptoms as having influenza. There would be no need for a distinguishing test.'

The report was also critical of the government's decision to stockpile just Tamiflu, saying that a similar quantity of a second drug, Relenza, was needed because there had been cases of the H5N1 virus developing a resistance to Tamiflu.

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