2,254 cases of Influenza A (H1N1) Infection World-wide

Underlying conditions like asthma, diabetes, heart disease or tuberculosis appear to put swine flu victims at greater risk of hospitalization or death, doctors from the WHO and the CDC said.

Some of the serious cases involve healthy young people, and the reasons for that are still unexplained. Many of the patients went into rapid decline and died of viral pneumonia, not bacterial pneumonia, said Dr. Sylvie Briand, a W.H.O. flu expert. Viral pneumonia may be a result of the “cytokine storm,” in which the body’s own immune reaction to a new virus floods the lungs with fluid. It can progress faster and be harder to treat than bacterial pneumonia.

The cytokine storm was thought to be one of the factors that contributed to the deadliness of the 1918 pandemic.   A cytokine storm describes an immune system that has over-reacted and is damaging the body, causing failure of multiple organ systems.  This would explain why an unusually large number of young people died during the 1918 flu; they had the healthiest immune systems.

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A “Just in Case” Vaccine?

Government agencies will need to decide soon weather or not a vaccine for the H1N1 virus will be needed this coming fall.  If the virus fades, millions of dollars and resources would be wasted.  Obviously, on the other hand, if the virus comes back in the fall stronger and deadlier, protection from it wouldn’t be available.  A related question is weather the H1N1 virus even warrants its own vaccine.

“If [the U.S.] decided to make the vaccine investment, the administration would have to make a stronger case, at some point, why a disease that caused two deaths and less than 500 cases in the U.S. in a two-week period — with a risk not greater than seasonal flu — would warrant the multibillion dollar investment, versus other prevalent diseases such as hepatitis, cancer or [cardiovascular disease] that each caused dozens of thousand deaths and affects millions of Americans each year.”

In addition to all that, many people are wary of vaccine programs such as this after the fiasco in 1976.  A small outbreak of swine flu was discovered at the Fort Dix Army Base, prompting fear that another epidemic (such as the massive one in 1918) was on the way.  The government undertook a massive vaccination program that turned out pretty horribly:

“Within days reports emerged that the vaccine appeared to increase the risk for Guillain-Barre syndrome, a rare neurological condition that causes temporary paralysis but can be fatal.

Waiting in long lines at schools and clinics, more than 40 million Americans — almost 25% of the population — received the swine flu vaccine before the program was halted…after 10 weeks.

More than 500 people are thought to have developed Guillain-Barre syndrome after receiving the vaccine; 25 died. No one completely understands the causes of Guillain-Barre, but the condition can develop after a bout with infection or following surgery or vaccination. The federal government paid millions in damages to people or their families.”

On top of all that, the pandemic never even materialized!

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1,085 cases of Influenza A (H1N1) Infection World-wide

I came home to find CNN putting up soothing articles,  like “When a Pandemic Isn’t a Pandemic” and “Swine Flu No Worse Than Regular Flu.”

Apparently, you can have a pandemic without a large number of deaths.  Or at least, that’s what the WHO is saying now.  Before, the WHO’s definition of a pandemic, which appeared on their website,  said

“that a pandemic flu causes “enormous numbers of deaths and illness. After a CNN reporter pointed this out, WHO spokeswoman Natalie Boudou called back to say the definition was in error and had been pulled from the WHO Web site.”

“It was a mistake, and we apologize for the confusion,” she said. “(That definition) was put up a while ago and paints a rather bleak picture and could be very scary.”

The correct definition is that “pandemic” indicates outbreaks in at least two of the regions into which WHO divides the world, but has nothing to do with the severity of the illnesses or the number of deaths.”

Now, to me, this sounds like the WHO still isn’t really sure what they want the definition of a pandemic to be.  It seems very important to the WHO and other health agencies to constantly remind people that this new virus certainly isn’t shaping up to be like the 1918 killer virus.  I have to wonder when, and not if, there will be another pandemic like the one in 1918.

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Updates

A school in Rockville, Maryland has been closed due to a suspected swine flu case that appears to have been acquired in the community.

“In all the other cases, the patient had some link to a person who had recently traveled to Mexico, where the disease seems to have begun. But in this case, officials said, neither the student nor his immediate family had traveled recently, which makes it more worrisome…”

The number of possible swine flu cases at the Harvard Dental School has risen to 9.

8 students at Amherst College have been isolated due to possible infection.

A man in the UK has been confirmed as the first person to have contracted the virus without visiting Mexico.

Around 300 people staying at a hotel in Hong Kong have been quarantined after a guest was confirmed to have the swine flu.

The CDC says it’s “good news” that this current strain lacks the genes of the 1918 virus that was so deadly, but the fact that “the new virus is a very unusual four-way combination of human genes and genes from swine viruses found in North America, Asia and Europe” does not make me feel warm and fuzzy inside.

People are still wearing those ridiculous masks around as if they help.  They only really help if you’re sick in not spreading around all the germs that come out of your mouth.

Tonight seems like a good night for zombie movies.

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Pestilence in Perspective

And so at the end of the day, there is this nagging fear in the back of the head, that this is it. This is going to be the big one. But then I am reminded that this has happened before, and will happen again.  Let’s review– mainly for the purpose of making me feel better about the current state of affairs.

1348 [The Black Death/The Bubonic Plague]: This is one of my favorites.  Grim, gross, and thousands of years ago.  Spread by fleas and rats (already that’s pretty gross), this killed an estimated 25 million people.  An Italian writer who lived through the plague described it like this:

“…it began…with certain swellings in the groin or under the armpit. They grew to the size of a small apple or an egg…In a short space of time these tumours spread from the two parts named all over the body. Soon after this the symptoms changed and black or purple spots appeared on the arms or thighs or any other part of the body, sometimes a few large ones, sometimes many little ones. These spots were a certain sign of death…”

1918 [Spanish Flu]: or what I would like to call “the big bad wolf.”  Over 50 million people died.  ” Some people who felt well in the morning became sick by noon, and were dead by nightfall.” Terrifying.  The Spanish Flu also fancied young, healthy adults who are usually less likely to become seriously ill due to the flu.

1957 [Asian Flu]: Much milder, if you can call it that, with global death estimates at 2 million.  During the first wave of this epidemic, the highest infection rates were among children, who spread the illness within their schools.  The second wave effected mostly the elderly.

1968 [Hong Kong Flu]: Also known as H3N2, it is estimated to have caused 1 million deaths worldwide.  The elderly were most likely to die and deaths occurred in large numbers during 2 separate winters.

2009 [H1N1]: We have been thrust back into history and it’s pretty exciting…and terrifying of course.