I came across this map at The Guardian’s website about worldwide numbers of swine flu cases. I write this post from Belgium, currently at less than 200 cases, and more or less free of the swine flu paranoia seen in the UK. But why has the UK been so hard hit? The UK currently has 10000 cases, 10x the next largest number of cases in an EU country – 1000 cases in Spain.

This map from the BBC details the worldwide spread, while the one at the bottom of the page shows the spread across the UK.

So what’s causing this? On Twitter, in discussion with @euromarianne, @markpack, @helenavelikaja and @itnorris, there are the following theories:

  1. The ‘London Heathrow’ effect – that the UK is a hub for international travel, also shown through the Youtube video above. However the regional spread of the disease – i.e. right across the UK would seem to disprove this, as would the fact that Spain started to have cases before the UK did, but developed far slower. Germany in total would also have the same sort of numbers of transatlantic flights as the UK but has had only 700 cases.
  2. The UK does not screen people at its airports as effectively as other places do.
  3. The centralised nature of the NHS means the UK can more effectively total up the number of cases.
  4. That there’s something specific about the immune systems of the British population, having never been exposed to Spanish flu.
  5. That the British have bad personal hygiene…?

Anyway, whichever way it’s rather intriguing!


  1. Jon,

    As an addendum, here’s Dr Crippen on the subject

    “Finally, there is a huge problem with data. The government is logging all people who have been given Tamiflu as having swine flu and therefore the swine flu numbers are likely to be grossly inflated.”



  2. Ah, now that’s an interesting one… that’s more likely to be the root of this issue. Seems more logical than anything else yet proposed.

  3. Jon,

    There’s one factor that you have missed out, that was highlighted by Guido (I can’t find the post right now): he suspected that his daughter might have swine flu, but the GP wouldn’t let them go to the surgery to be tested.

    As such, I suspect that we have a reporting problem: in the absence of viable testing, swine flu cases are simply being assumed. Whether this reluctance to test is present in other countries, I don’t know, however.


  4. Miguel Soares

    Is it possible that the histeria is leading everyone in the UK to the hospitals, while in other countries people just assume that’s a normal flu and cure it the usual way at home? After all this is a normal flu, treatable at home in most of the cases…

  5. Don’t look at the cases but at the deceased. The question is: why having 10x more there are not much more deceased by the illness? Look at Spain for example. I reckon the efficiency and sensitivity of the NHS in (1) counting cases, (2) centralising the data, (3) publishing the data is a major explanatory factor. It is all a question of numbers and not reality.

  6. swine flu britain

    Swine flu is becoming an increasingly controversial topic

    tell us what you think or submit an article


    Sean Rushforth

  7. It’s a viable idea, but Netherlands and Belgium are more densely populated than the UK is. So they should exhibit similar patterns. Plus in Germany more than 10 million people live in the Ruhrgebiet – that should show the same.

    I think the answer might be ‘all of the above’ actually!

  8. Good point made to me in an email from a friend after seeing this – “I think we have more conurbations than other countries. Whereas here [in south west France], it is unlikely that people might meet up on one evening with people from one urban area and on the next with people from another because they are too far apart, in the Midlands where they are so close together most probably do. A slightly roundabout way of measuring this might be to look at light pollution.”

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