Looming Swine

A new round of the swine flu, which has been exploding in the Southern Hemisphere, could be making its way to the Northern Hemisphere in a matter of weeks.  There will be deaths,  but there are always deaths as a result of the flu.  As Marc Lipsitch, a professor of epidemiology at the Harvard School of Public Health who has been helping the CDC project the severity of the upcoming wave noted, “It’s fair to say there will be tens of millions of illnesses and hundreds of thousands of hospitalizations, and tens of thousands of deaths. That’s not atypical. It just depends on how many tens of thousands.”

The Washington Post provides a good summary, noting that:

Perhaps more important, in every country where the virus has spread, it has continued to affect children and young adults much more commonly than typical flu viruses.

“In a pandemic where a greater fraction of illness and deaths occur in kids and young adults, that will be clearly noticeable to the public. There will be a sense that this is a greater severity of illness even if fewer people die overall,” the CDC’s Bresee said.

Most of those who have developed serious illness and died have had other health problems. But those include many common conditions, such as diabetes, asthma and obesity. Pregnant women appear to be especially at risk. And the virus can cause severe illness and death in otherwise healthy people in perhaps a third of cases.

In the Southern Hemisphere, the virus has been more intense in some places, including those with few resources.  Countries with fragile health care like India and South Africa could be quickly overwhelmed if the swine flu starts infected a large number of people.

I guess we will have to wait and see.  Preferably with suspenseful music in the background.

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Look to the South

So the H1N1 virus is not a big deal anymore, right?  Not according to this article, which has some pretty scary things to say.

“The Southern Hemisphere has been mostly spared in the swine flu epidemic. That could change when winter starts in coming weeks with no vaccine in place, leaving half the planet out in the cold.

Experts fear public health systems could be overwhelmed — especially if swine flu and regular flu collide in major urban populations.

“You have this risk of an additional virus that could essentially cause two outbreaks at once,” Dr. Jon Andrus said at the Pan American Health Organization’s headquarters in Washington.

There’s also a chance that the two flus could collide and mutate into a new strain that is more contagious and dangerous.

“We have a concern there might be some sort of reassortment and that’s something we’ll be paying special attention to,” World Health Organization spokesman Dick Thompson said in Geneva.

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