Richard Jarvis: Why swine flu parties would be a bad idea

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The Independent Online

I absolutely recognise that parents are in a difficult position, and might not know the best thing to do for their children, but I would tell them to listen to the advice being given by doctors and health professionals who are dealing with the situation in their area.

Doing the simple things correctly, such as using tissues when you're coughing and sneezing and washing your hands afterwards, is more important than trying to second guess the virus. Swine flu is a nasty illness, which can knock adults off their feet for several days and cause several serious complications like pneumonia. Do people really want to be exposing their children to this? I would say it's not worth the risk.

It's a much better idea to wait for a vaccine and take practical steps to avoid getting the flu in the meantime. Vaccines will give people good immunity, in the same way that having the virus at an early age would, without them ever contracting the illness and risking the complications which come with it.

There is little evidence to suggest that parents are letting their kids take part in so-called "swine flu parties" – in fact, many are taking them out of school unnecessarily against medical advice – but purposefully trying to contract the virus is a risk people should not be taking in the first place. I do not approve of chicken pox parties either, because I think it's better to take steps to avoid both illnesses entirely.

The effects of swine flu might not have not been as bad as we first thought they would be, but it is certainly not a mild illness. The complications are serious and it can, in a few cases, result in death.

Sharing the virus will also undermine our strategy of containment. If we start deliberately exposing ourselves to the illness, we're going to spread it through our community much, much quicker than it would have otherwise. Sooner or later, this could have severe consequences.

What we've been doing so far is trying to contain the illness by identifying all possible cases, diagnosing them through a lab test, identifying all close contact the subject has had with others and treating it with Tamiflu. The benefit of this is that every week we successfully contain the virus, we are one week closer to finding a vaccine.

* Dr Richard Jarvis is chairman of the British Medical Association's Public Health Medicine Committee