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Swine Flu

Posted in Science at 8:44 am by David Bradley -- 146 Comments; add your comment

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pig-swine-fluWe;ve been told to forget avian influenza, it seemed that swine flu that could ravage the world as Mexicans were warned not to shake hands in church was the next bad thing. Large public gatherings, such as sporting events and concerts, were banned and schools closed, but international travel to Mexico has not been banned, is swine flu yet more media hype and scaremongering to distract us from the economic recession?

As I’ve discussed previously on Sciencebase, there are countless latent diseases in hosts as rodents, birds, and cattle lying ready and willing to make the species leap to humans and decimate our populations. Whereas for the last ten years or so bird flu has been the focus of much research and worry it was always more likely that a potentially lethal strain of virus would emerge from another species and not necessarily in Asia.

Now, swine flu is on the rise in Mexico and already taking the first inroads into the USA just across the border. It’s supposedly killed more than 150 people in Mexico city and made thousands ill. However, not all those deaths have been definitively associated with swine flu, which means the mortality rate could be as low as 1% or as high as 6.5% depending on how you count.

Should we be worried?

In a word? No. While some observers are suggesting serious caution others are advising that there is no reason for real concern yet. We are not quite at the danger levels of even the worldwide SARS epidemic and certainly not close to the Spanish flu pandemic that really did ravage the population in 1918-9.

Is the WHO scaremongering too?

The World Health Organization (WHO) has declared the Mexican/US swine flu outbreak as a “public health emergency of international concern”. It moved us to a Phase IV alert and then a Phase V alert and told us that the disease could no longer be contained. However, as things are panning out it would seem that this latest emergent virus is not even as bad as the common seasonal flu that kills tens of thousands of people every year.

What is swine flu?

Swine flu is a type A influenza virus present in pigs. It’s a subtype of H1N1. Human infection is usually uncommon except among people who work and live closely with pigs.

What is unusual about the present strain?

The new strain is a hybrid of swine, human and avian flu viruses and the US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) says it can spread from human to human but the level of virulence is not yet clear. UPDATE: It is not proving to be particularly virulent and outside the poverty zones of Mexico City it is not demonstrating lethality. Most people are recovering.

What are the symptoms?

Symptoms are similar to regular human flu: fever and chills, a cough, sore throat, aching limbs, headaches, and general malaise. However, there are reports of swine flu also causing diarrhoea and vomiting. Pneumonia and respiratory failure can occur leading to death as also happens in regular human flu, which kills thousands of people every year.

Are there warning signs in children?

Children having trouble breathing, being averse to drinking, lethargy not waking up or not interacting, being so irritable that the child does not want to beheld, flu-like symptoms improve but then return with fever and worse cough, fever with a rash.

Are there any drugs to treat swine flu?

Oseltamivir (Tamiflu) and zanamivir (Relenza) are the possible pharmaceutical frontline defence and are proving effective in treating patients diagnosed early enough. There is as yet no vaccine. It takes several months to create a flu vaccine and any such vaccine will be effective against only the specific strain for which it was created. By the time we have a vaccine the virus may have either died out (most likely) or evolved into a different strain resistant to the vaccine.

Has the disease spread to the USA?

Cases in California, Texas, and Kansas, have been confirmed and tests are being carried out on students at a school in New York. Cases have been seen in New Zealand, Spain, Scotland, and elsewhere; those infected have been recovering well.

How can we prevent the spread of swine flu?

People at risk should cover their mouth when they cough. They should regularly wash their hands with an alcohol-based cleaner and and avoid close contact with the sick. Patients with the disease should stay at home. There is no need to avoid eating pork.

Will there be a global flu epidemic?

“We do not know whether this swine flu virus or some other influenza virus will lead to the next pandemic,” says, Richard Besser, acting director of the CDC, “However, scientists around the world continue to monitor the virus and take its threat seriously.” UPDATE: the WHO raised its alert level from Phase IV to V, but we seem to be no closer to a full-blown pandemic than we were at the beginning of this debacle.

Will there be a second wave?

One of two outcomes are being forecast, this rather poorly virulent strain will continue spreading slowly but ultimately die out, thanks to a combination of low virulence and monitoring and isolation of outbreaks, or it will mutate into something more nastier and bring with it a fast-spreading and more lethal wave of influenza. Thankfully, in the Northern hemisphere, we are heading into summer and influenza viruses do not spread as efficiently in the summer as they do in the winter. My hunch is that this H1N1 strain of swine flu will die out and the media hype with it over the next two to three weeks.

What’s next?

It is impossible to predict what virus will emerge from which host, there are countless different types of pathogen lying dormant in the countless different mammals across the globe. No one predicted SARS, AIDS, Ebola, West Nile virus, or swine flu. This time, health agencies have responded well and although the WHO is saying it is now impossible to “contain” swine flu, it seems that the inflammatory headlines have died down and millions are NOT going to die of this disease.

Is this a wake-up call?

At the very least this swine flu outbreak should wake us all up to either getting the dust off our (bird flu) pandemic plans (as the response is the same) or getting started with putting them together. This includes both businesses and individuals. If the outbreak dies out quickly and this turns out not to be the next global pandemic then we can be sure another strain will try to be at some point in the future. Pandemic preparedness for businesses should now be at the forefront of every business manager’s mind.

What is cyberchondria?

Cyberchondria is an anxiety disorder related to hyperchondria and brought on by reading too many tweets with the #swineflu tag, listening to conspiracy theorists, and viewing online news stories about diseases that scare the sheesh kebab out of you for no good reason.

146 Responses to “Swine Flu”

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  1. 146
    Rodrigo Says:

    Hi there

    This article is very interesting. The fact is a world Paranoia was created around a virus, and the only thing that I could see was that scientific advances helped to avoid the epidemy, contrary to the spanish flu in 70s. Anyway the bad side of the story is that as mexicans we are suffering some kind of discrimination thanks to a natural living entitie mutation.

  2. 145
    okin Says:

    please, see this link - a portrait serie about the swine flu outbreak in mexico city

  3. 144
    David Parizek Says:

    There are mathematical models to suggest anything you want. And yes, if something comes along that mutates into something really virulent, it can and probably will happen. But the swine flu is not yet it.

    Comparing it to the 1918 pandemic is bogus. That flu was moved around in different time frames by boat with all the shipping for World War I. At that time, it was coming in to essentially otherwise isolated populations via boat. The time frames and situations are completely different. Virus wise we are all one global population now.

    I agree, we should never trivialize the risk, and the shirts I advertised are not doing that. We are constantly at risk from lots of things - nuclear war, disease, etc. - and it is ok to look at with some humor instead of just holing up in our mouse holes and spending our whole lives worrying. I say live and laugh — otherwise you are already dead so why should you care if swine flu kills you?

    Sooner or later our global population is going to get hid hard by disease, and I am not laughing at that possibility. But at the same time we do not want to be in a boy who cried wolf situation, and then unprepared when the real wolf comes. And we do not want to let that very real possibility cause us so much worry that it steals our lives away before it even gets here.

  4. 143
    Annie Says:

    Very interesting article. Dr. Brady had some good points also.

  5. 142
    Adam Lark Says:

    Don’t trivialise the risk from Swine Flu (H1N1). The Spanish Flu (also H1N1) killed more than 50 million people in 1918. The mortality rate from the Spanish Flu also started slow, just like the 2009 Swine Flu (H1N1) & it was the deadly second wave of the virus that hit in the Fall/Winter that killed most people.

    You need to read Flu Safe - Surviving the Pandemic by Dr Wayman (

    Some mathematical models are suggesting more than 100 million people will die from Swine Flu 2009. That is why people like Dr. Margaret Chan, the head of the World Health Organisation (WHO), are saying “all of humanity is under threat”

  6. 141
    Tim Says:

    On page 138 of the book “MURDER BY INJECTION” by Eustace Mullins, it mentions something called the ‘Great Swine Flu Massacre’ in the 1970s in which drug manufacturers developed a vaccine for pigs. According to the book, the vaccine was rejected by pigs farmers, but was later marketed for human use. During the Gerald Ford administration, a vaccination program was developed in which 40 million people participated. The vaccine was discontinued due to subsequent illnesses being reported from its use.

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