Today’s Swine Flu Big Picture

Sadly I’m time limited today, and I suspect everyone else is too so I’m going to try something a little different. This post will be an update on the swine flu news today, and later tonight, if possible, we’ll have our primarily educational post.

Those who want a more technical breakdown, as always I recommend Effect Measure, whose coverage of this is unparalleled.

The Bad News

The threat isn’t as clear as we thought it was. Previously, I had said on this page that the CDC reported this swine flu strain was a reassorted strain, with more than just swine flu genes. Well scientists have taken a look at the published sequence of the swine flu genome and so far it looks like only swine sequences.

What does that mean for you? Not a whole lot. It means that when things happen quickly, you sacrifice accuracy for speed. Whether this is a swine flu that can infect people, or a reassorted mixed swine flu that can infect people the effect is the same. 

We now have a virus that is relatively new to our immune systems, that has shown us it can go from person to person. It is now confirmed, with human to human spread in multiple countries. All of this has lead the WHO to raise the Swine Flu Pandemic alert level to phase 5.  I’ll touch back on what those phases mean in our teaching post. Can you guess what I’m going to say?

That’s right, I’m going to say Don’t Panic!

One other place where the scientists aren’t all on the same page: Just how many people have this disease, and how bad is it? We don’t know if this is a very bad influenza, that kills alot of people. We don’t know if it’s a relatively mild influenza, that caught almost all of Mexico, but was only diagnosed in those patients worst hit by the disease. We don’t know if it’s somewhere between those extremes.

What we know is that despite the large numbers being thrown around about how many patients are dieing in Mexico, very few have lab diagnosed Swine Flu. In fact we have more lab diagnosed cases of swine flu in this country than in Mexico.

Lastly, we’ve had our first casuality, a child in Texas has died of this illness. It looks like the toddler contracted swine flu in Mexico. Where this happened is perhaps important to the epidemiologists, but cold comfort at best to families, worrying about their own children.

Bad news summary: We don’t know a whole lot of anything. A child has died, and thats tragic,

The Good News

While I just mentioned the tragedy of the first death of this disease above, it’s important to maintain perspective. Things aren’t as bad as MSNBC is telling you. In my brief glimpses of TV news,  the main stream media makes it sound like fire is raining from the sky.

The WHO level has been raised to 5, but that doesn’t mean you’re going to die! It means that governments, public health services, doctors and healthcare workers need to get on the ball. We need to be prepared to nip things in the bud. Resources need to be available to put out fires, and be prepared. Some Science needs to kick into high gear – like efforts to create, and mass produce a vaccine, and produce more antiviral medications. It’s less of an issue for the US, where we were already gearing those things up. It’s more a warning to the rest of the world to get their stuff together.

Keep in mind, for reasons we don’t understand, the flu is seasonal, and this isn’t the most fertile time for the flu to spread out and cause havok. We still don’t know how bad this flu is. One patient has died here, and we have quite a few confirmed cases, but they all seem to have relatively mild illness. So far, this doesn’t look like the next bubonic plague, or the 1918 flu.

So what does all this mean for you? How is your life different today than it was yesterday? It isn’t. We don’t know as much as we’d like to about this virus. We’ll learn more as time goes on. Wash your hands, carry hand sanitizer. If you have a fever and a bad cough, don’t go to work, call your doctor. Don’t panic.

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2 Comments on “Today’s Swine Flu Big Picture”


  1. One of the points I’ve been making is that plain-old Influenza Type A infections lead to over 80 pediatric deaths in the 2007-8 flu season. In other words, any flu has a certain amount of mortality, and my guess (without enough information to make it an educated guess) is that the swine flu will have a similar morbidity and mortality profile.

    Which leads me down to the anti-vaccination pathway. Why wouldn’t every parent vaccinate their children against the flu, knowing the disease has a definable toll on children?


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