Survey Reveals Doctors Complacency Over Risk of Avian Flu

Fewer than half of doctors with an interest in infectious diseases in children believe that a flu pandemic resulting from an avian strain is very likely, according to a study published online ahead of print in Archives of Disease in Childhood. But despite this, a sizeable minority keeps a supply of the anti-viral drug oseltamivir at their disposal, just in case.

The figures are based on the views of 161 doctors, mostly European (50 percent from the UK), attending a conference. They were asked to answer a series of questions on avian flu using an anonymous electronic voting system, and also a question about their seniority, so the results could be categorized.

Only 44.7 percent believed that a human flu pandemic, arising from either a mutation of an avian influenza virus or re-assortment with a human strain, was almost inevitable or very likely. The majority thought it was only possible, and 9.9 percent thought it was unlikely or very unlikely. However, 7.9 percent of 139 respondents admitted they had a supply of the neuraminidase inhibitor oseltamivir for personal or family use despite strong recommendations against this. Only one of the 27 consultants in infectious diseases had a supply compared with five out of 29 senior registrars or fellows.

The authors speculated that perhaps this was because the more junior doctors in infectious diseases had a perceived higher risk of exposure.

Despite evidence to the contrary that has received widespread exposure in both the medical and lay press, over half of these physicians (who are likely to have a more than average interest in and knowledge about avian influenza) did not believe the risk of an imminent influenza pandemic was more than a possibility, they said.

Associate professor Nigel Curtis, head of the infectious diseases unit at the Royal Children's Hospital Melbourne, commented, This survey highlights that, like many other doctors and the public alike, there was a degree of complacency amongst the doctors surveyed with regard to the evidence and expert opinion that there is a significant risk of an imminent flu pandemic for which we need to be prepared.

Source: British Medical Journal