A Philosopher's Blog

Swine Flu Pandemic?

Posted in Medicine/Health by Michael LaBossiere on April 28, 2009

Although there are relatively few cases of swine flu, there is already talk of a pandemic. While the news media continues to hype up the situation (fear motivates people to watch the news) various governments are taking action to prepare for the worst. Naturally, this situation raises a multitude of questions.

As this is being written, the situation is mostly one of terrible potential rather than terrible actuality. Except, of course, for the people who have already died of swine flu. As the news agencies point out, the “normal” flu kills about 36,000 Americans a year and this strain has yet to kill anyone in the United States. Sadly, the same is not true in Mexico. Of course, we do not know how deadly this strain is-there are not yet enough cases to determine this.

While the current swine flu (a previous strain made the news back in the 1970s) is an exotic flu that combines elements from swine, avian and human flus, this need not entail that the flu will be especially deadly. It is, of course, natural to be afraid that such a seemingly exotic strain will be some sort of superbug, but this need not be the case. As experts in disease always point out, super deadly strains generally do not spread that well (a host that dies quickly does not spread the disease as far). Milder strains tend to spread quite well because the hosts live and are not incapacitated. With any luck, this strain is fairly mild: while this means that more people will be sick, hopefully this will mean fewer deaths.

Of course, modern travel technology means that rather dangerous strains can spread fairly far. To be a bit scary, imagine a disease that kills in 8 hours. That would be enough time for an infected person to get across the United States or into other countries. The plague that devastated Europe was spread, in part, by the high tech transport of the day: ships. Today we have far faster means of transport and this enables a disease that appears in Mexico to be transported to New York in a matter of hours. This is, of course, very bad.

There are, of course, good reasons to be worried. As noted above, the “normal” flu kills 36,000 Americans a year (at least according to CNN). A new strain of flu, like the swine flu, might be deadlier. At the very least, being a new strain means that our immune systems might be ill prepared to deal with it.

Fortunately, governments seem to be taking the right steps to deal with the situation. Of course, some might wonder why there is such concern when other diseases have been ravaging the world without comparable concern. The cynical might note that swine flu is something that threatens Western countries as well, rather than merely being a problem for the third world.

So far, there is no reason to panic. The smart thing to do is follow the sensible advice given by medical professionals: avoid known areas of infection, wash your hands often, minimize your contact with other people, avoid touching your mouth or eyes, and seek medical help if you start exhibiting symptoms.  As noted above, those who have received treatment for swine flu in the United States have recovered quickly and completely. So far, at least.

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8 Responses

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  1. Genelle said, on April 28, 2009 at 4:19 pm

    In 1918:

    In large U.S cities, more than 10,000 deaths per week were attributed to the virus. It is estimated that as many as 50% of the population was infected, and ~1% died. To compare, in “normal” (interpandemic) years, it is estimated that between 10-20% of the population is infected, with a .008% mortality.

    The fact the current ‘swine flu’ has shown to be contagious is alarming. So far the virus has shown to have a 6% to 6.3% mortality rate. It may not seem like much, but please consider the following: The deadly influenza panic in 1918 had a mortality rate of under 1%.

    This virus went on to kill tens of thousands of healthy people a day in large cities and up to 100 million people world wide.

    Viruses, like this strain of swine flu, kill their host by over-stimulating active immune systems that are robust and healthy. That is why the victims in Mexico were between the ages of 20 and 45.

    Some have said that no one in the United States have died from the virus, so we need not worry. Experts say it is only a matter of time. The virus is not prevalent enough to reach statistical significance in the United States, with only a handful of confirmed cases. 93.7% of all Mexicans with the virus recovered.

    More cause for worry: The 1918 virus started off ‘mild’ before it mutated into a raging storm. It also does not mean we will see millions of deaths. It is too early to draw sweeping conclusions. Nevertheless, there is potential for a disastrous pandemic. If 50% of Americans catch this flu in the next two years, and the mortality rate stays at 6.3%, we would witness 20+ million deaths.

    This strain of virus is more potent and more deadly than the virus that hammered the world in 1918 and 1919. Viruses come in waves. There are striking similarities to this virus and the virus that killed up to 100 million people in 1918. The first wave is historically more mild than the later waves.

    In addition to this virus becoming more severe, it is mutating faster than previous virus that we have seen. In addition, this virus is nothing like we have ever seen before because it combines features from viruses natural in different parts of the globe. We are in uncharted territory.

    If it follows the same path as the 1918 flu, we will see very damaging results. However, we must remember we are a global society now and the virus can spread quicker than we have ever witnessed in history. This is very concerning especially since the drugs we have now seem resistant.

    While there have been no deaths in America, it is shadowed by the fact the common variable among the deaths seem to be age. While most American cases have involved the very young and very old (under 10 and over 50) the Mexican cases that ended fatally involved the robust and healthy (over 20 and under 45).

    This virus kills the host by over-stimulating the immune system. The term that is used when the immune system over reacts is called a Cytokine Storm. It is usually fatal. During this “Storm” over 150 inflammatory mediators are released. This would account for the high mortality rate in 1918-19.

    http://tinyurl.com/d2te2f

    • Michael LaBossiere said, on April 29, 2009 at 10:17 am

      It is still too early to estimate the likely death rate of the flu or its likely severity. There is, as of yet, too little information and statistical data.

  2. kernunos said, on April 28, 2009 at 9:19 pm

    Usually people don’t die from the flu even when serious if under our health care. People die from the flu from other complications it causes, dehydration, congestion leading to pneumonia if not nipped in the bud…etc. If someone waits too long to get treatment they can die or if they have some other pre-existing condition weakening them such as HIV or a bad respiratory disorder. We will not have that many deaths here in the US, no matter how crappy everyone says our healthcare system is.

  3. magus71 said, on April 29, 2009 at 9:45 am

    It’s also important to know that 37,000 people a year die in America from the “regular” flu.

  4. kernunos said, on April 29, 2009 at 1:43 pm

    One death so far, a 23 month old child. we don’t have any of the details but I bet the child got care way too late.

    • kernunos said, on April 29, 2009 at 3:28 pm

      Oh, I should have figured. When the media left out the details I should have known it was an illegal immigrant’s child. No less tragic a loss to the world but it does shine some light as to the reasons. This is all nothing but smoke and mirrors to keep us distracted from the Obama agenda, the stupid fly-over by Air Force One or as simple as a ratings grab over nothing.

      Besides, look at the last time the Swine flu hit and the government intervened. The year was 1976 and the President was the last Moonbat in office. Government intervention caused more problems with the vaccine they pushed than the flu did. there was a huge class action lawsuit from all of the neurological disorders caused.

      I say the media should just take their Vitamin C and not worry us so much.

      I’m not worried.

  5. kernunos said, on April 29, 2009 at 3:30 pm

    Oh and to Obama saying we are doing all we can do…….How about closing the border. That might help a little. Just platitudes and telling us what we want to hear.

  6. kernunos said, on April 29, 2009 at 3:46 pm

    Here is your cause btw.


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