We received a missive from our daughter this morning, not from the school as one might expect, but from the Thames Valley Health Protection Unit which appears to be part of the Health Protection Agency. No, I had never heard of them before either. Anyway, this letter refers to a confirmed case of H1N1 swine flu at my daughter's school and what they intend to do about it. Whilst I have no issue with their approach what did strike me was the slightly odd use of language. For example, the letter informs that they have performed a risk assessment and identified 'a discrete cohort of close contacts'. As far as I can tell the phrase 'discrete cohort' is used by epidemiologists; it certainly isn't part of my everyday language.
Later we learn that these cohorts will be given advice on 'prophylactic antiviral medicine to take as a precautionary/preventative measure'. Quite apart from my dislike of the '/' symbol when the word 'and' or 'or' could just as easily been used, the word prophylactic means preventative thus rendering the sentence tautological.
In the penultimate paragraph we are told that 'anyone with symptoms should self isolate and limit their contact with others.' It is a bit lax on the specifying which symptoms they are referring to but even so 'self isolate' is an awful turn of phrase whereas 'isolate oneself' would have been perfectly acceptable.
In the concluding paragraph, we are reminded that in order to reduce the transmission of all viruses we should use 'good respiratory hand hygiene'. Any suggestions as to what constitutes a 'respiratory hand' is will be gratefully received.
Finally, the letter is signed by a 'Consultant in Health Protection' and no, I have never heard of one of them before either.