Charade, farce or ‘mask’- erade?


Charades is a popular game that involves someone acting out a scene from a film or a book title in silence, whilst the audience has to guess what is going on, and name the film, book or play.

UK Charades

Last week, when Alleyn’s school, a co-educational independent secondary school in Dulwich, South London, UK, was hit by swine flu, it seemed as though a charade was being acted out by the health authorities and the media.  Innocent children, parents and staff appeared as puppets, props and extras on the set to create a show-stopping spectacle for the general public.  A sobering report by Karen Robinson, the mother of one of the pupils was published in the UK’s Sunday Times on May 10th, which shone a clear light on the whole performance. What do you think is really going on here...?

Six of the 1,179 pupils at the school had been found to have swine flu, probably caught from a single pupil, who had visited the US during the Easter holidays.  For many of the pupils, important exams are approaching, and stress levels are high.  The Health Protection Agency (HPA) ordered the school to close in order to ‘contain’ the infection, apparently with the warning that a mild pandemic would cause "three times more deaths than ordinary flu".  Karen Robinson, describes the following scene:


The head teacher, following HPA advice, moved fast - and the media moved even quicker, assembling at the school gates in time to film parents, summoned from a lazy bank holiday afternoon to collect a course of Tamiflu for each of our children, thus making us the lead story on the early evening news bulletins and front-page news the next day.

About eight doctors had been assembled in the dining hall. Where had they all come from on a bank holiday? Some, Antony Faccinello, the school’s senior deputy head, told me, were from the Midlands, and would be put up in hotels, and all costs were being met by the National Health Service. They dished out the 10-day Tamiflu courses delivered from HPA warehouses, with guidance on how and why our children should take it.

She goes on to describe the disruption and repercussions to the exam schedule, which followed, as “serious”, and yet, as was becoming evident everywhere else in all but the seriously immune compromised, “the Alleyn’s sufferers had only mild symptoms and are now fully recovered”.

Interestingly, Mrs Robinson also expressed her view on her son’s course of Tamiflu, which had been made available to all of the pupils, against WHO advice, as a temporary ‘virus inhibiting’ measure. “I’m rather wishing now that he, literally, and I, metaphorically, hadn’t been so quick to swallow it. Like most of his fellow students, he probably hasn’t got the virus, and if he has, wouldn’t a mild dose of flu - and the chance of building up some immunity - be preferable to a whacking great dose of antiviral drugs with the side-effects of badly upset stomach that he and several friends have endured? But in the stressed-out exam season, the idea of coming off the regimented - and already disrupted - revision plan even for a few days had us reaching for the capsules”.

Similar charades are being enacted in the US, and other parts of the world affected by the Influenza A (H1N1) virus.

US  Charades

A report last week in the US Mercury News describes the following scene:

She was forbidden from touching a thing in the house. Her father raced across town hunting down Tamiflu. A  county health team suited up in goggles, smocks and double face masks on her doorstep looking like a hazmat crew.  Fearful people backed away from her mother. She missed a best friend's birthday.  And, for two hours one day, she thought she was going to die”.

It’s absolutely appalling that an innocent young girl, her family and friends should have such fear apparently instilled by the county health team.  County health officials who would have known that the real risks currently posed by this virus are presently relatively minor—whilst the same cannot be said for either the antiviral drugs or the soon-to-be-developed vaccine being foisted on a frightened and vulnerable population. The girl has now recovered and returned to her school, with the comments "I'm going to try to take as much drama away from it as I can… I'm going to act like it's not a big deal… I just don't want people to be afraid of me".

While these various charades create interesting column inches that no doubt improve newspaper sales and television ratings, a range of issues emerge that cannot be ignored.  Of particular concern is the possibility of a deliberate orchestration of hype designed to increase profits of pharmaceutical companies and vaccine manufacturers—and the social consequences of a misinformed public being preyed upon.


One of the unfortunate social side effects of this type of public fear mongering, amongst vulnerable and sensitive children, is the ensuing cyber-bullying by text, phone and (in the above instance) through the online social networking site, Facebook, of those who are known to have the influenza A(H1N1) infection.  Effectively, the latter are being treated in much the same way as were lepers in the past.

In that very same UK school featured above, an infected year 12 year old pupil, reported in the London Evening Standard, received various nasty texts from both anonymous and known fellow pupils.  One of these said threateningly “you are going to die”!

The report quotes the child’s father as saying “a lot of people are over-reacting, it's a sort of ignorance …there are some aggressive parents saying none of us should be allowed out. But we are not a threat, we are not displaying symptoms”.

The Daily Telegraph reported last week that Sir Liam Donaldson, the UK’s chief medical officer, had commented on cases of such bullying, with the headline “Swine flu 'is not a plague' Sir Liam Donaldson has said as he urged schoolchildren not to shun or bully fellow pupils who have contracted the virus”.

Unfortunately however, in the same article, we read that the health secretary Alan Johnson “said it is reasonable to expect more cases in Britain in the weeks and months ahead and warned that while all the patients so far had been only mildly unwell, scientists cannot rule out that the virus may mutate into a more dangerous form and return in the Autumn. He announced that a total of 227m face masks had been ordered along with 33m respirators for NHS workers in contact with potentially infected patients in the event of a pandemic”.

So we see the cycle of fear perpetuated further, with the inevitable consequence of yet more frightened children, some of whom may react by bullying and shunning those infected or thought to be at risk of infection!  

Mild cases

But we also see, from many of last week’s news reports, just how mild the current outbreaks of influenza A (H1N1) actually are.  For example:

I just felt like I had a cough and was under the weather. When I found out it was swine flu I was worried but really it just felt like a normal cold. I don't think it's anything to worry about”,

No one else in the family was suffering from any symptoms”, and...

We wouldn't have thought for a second that Sophie had swine flu.. She just felt under the weather and it was like any other illness.” (Daily Mail, UK)

Their experience with the flu was 'no big deal'”. (The Republican)

Maia is the only one in her family who got sick...  To put it in perspective, Maia's case was mild.  Her dad says it was never worse than any other flu.  Still considered a probable case, now seven days later public health officials have given her the all clear”. (

"We want to stress to the public that our illness was very mild. The actual symptoms were fever of 99 to 101 degrees, dry cough, and slight body aches that lasted three days". (

"Mild [-like] symptoms", and..

Her family have also been treated with anti-viral drugs”. (This Western Morning News)

(ANH comment: it is interesting to note that, although older adults appear to have more natural immunity to this virus, they are still being given Tamiflu as a ‘precaution’, as reported in this particular article.)

The Washington Post published an article on May 6th, last week, under the  headline “Schools Shut by Flu Can Reopen…  Outbreak May Be Milder Than Feared”.  More than 726 schools were reported to have closed across the US during the week leading up to the report, in "an attempt to stem the spread of the virus”.

The article states that U.S. health officials had now reversed the previous recommendation that schools close for two weeks in the event of an outbreak of swine flu, “because most cases in the United States so far have been relatively mild, a genetic analysis of the virus found no signs it was especially dangerous, and there was a recognition that closing schools could probably do little to prevent its spread”.

The UK Guardian has referred to a comment by the UK prime minister, stating that “Brown said all the cases in the UK were mild”.

'Ode to Tamiflu' by Harry Houseago

'Comment' about the side effects of Tamiflu and the mild symptoms of  the 'swine flu' from the point of view of a 13 year-old  UK student is currently being spread around the world faster than the Influenza A (H1N1) virus itself! Whilst confined to his home as a result of the closure of Alleyn’s school, though uninfected himself, Harry Houseago composed a song and uploaded it onto the 'You Tube' website. Posted last week, it has already been viewed many thousands of times, and has also featured in a news report by the UK Daily Telegraph, and in the media generally.

It appears that Harry, having read the patient information leaflet provided in his packet of Tamiflu capsules, was more concerned about the possible side effects of the drug than he was about the flu itself. It may be difficult enough to convince an informed adult of any benefit of taking Tamiflu in this instance, but from a child’s perspective, scary side effects or a bad taste in the mouth are usually a very big deal indeed! It also seems Harry was under the impression that this drug would prevent him catching the virus. In actual fact Tamiflu is being offered to pupils such as himself simply to reduce the symptoms and duration of the infection, should the patient be already incubating the virus. Furthermore, once the course of capsules is complete, patients who have no immunity to the swine flu virus would remain susceptible to it.

We thank Harry Houseago for his entertaining and impressive song, and wish him all the very best!   

ANH final comment

Thankfully some realism seems to be creeping slowly into the media, with the UK Guardian last week saying that “around the world, public opinion seems to be shifting from fear of a pandemic to scepticism as to whether the virus poses a significant threat.”

It's worth remembering that we're infected with many different viruses on a daily basis, but our immune systems deal with them.  Often, we're not even aware that we've had a virus at all, such is the effectiveness of the immune system in normal non-compromised indiduals.  Our immune system is our main line of defence and it's affected greatly by stress. 

Psychoneuroimmunology is the study of the interaction between psychological processes and the nervous and immune systems of the human body.  In lay terms this means that what stresses you out, stresses your immune system out.  In our view the kind of fear that's generated by all the negative media headlines should carry a health warning!

See ANH’s earlier analysis of the ‘swine flu’ epidemic, which includes tips on keeping your immune system in good shape.


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