Swine Flu–Walking and Chewing Gum

  • Thus far the swine flu epidemic has been manageable. 42 deaths in Mexico, two in the U.S., but mostly a reasonably mild disease for the great majority of those affected. Cases will continue but for now as the flu season winds down the epidemic seems manageable. From the WHO:

“23 countries have officially reported 2099 cases of influenza A(H1N1) infection.”

“Mexico has reported 1112 laboratory confirmed human cases of infection, including 42 deaths. The United States has reported 642 laboratory confirmed human cases, including two deaths.”

“The following countries have reported laboratory confirmed cases with no deaths – Austria (1), Canada (201), China, Hong Kong Special Administrative Region (1), Colombia (1), Costa Rica (1), Denmark (1), El Salvador (2), France (5), Germany (9), Guatemala (1), Ireland (1), Israel (4), Italy (5), Netherlands (1), New Zealand (5), Portugal (1), Republic of Korea (2), Spain (73), Sweden (1), Switzerland (1) and the United Kingdom (28).”

In the 1918 epidemic there were episodes of relatively minor disease that were later followed by periods of very virulent disease with explosive spread. The disease altered evolved or perhaps creationed itself (see this) into more dangerous forms which caused a rapidly progressing severe illness, killing millions. This could still happen.

We have some time to develop a vaccine and strategies for more severe disease should they occur. This from Science, May 1:

“Early on, CDC began to brew a “seed” strain for a possible vaccine against swine H1N1, and by 27 April the World Health Organization in Geneva, Switzerland, was already talking to vaccine manufacturers. One key problem is that the world’s influenza vaccine production capacity-which still relies on growing the vaccine virus in chicken eggs-is limited to some 400 million vaccine doses a year and is impossible to expand quickly. Manufacturing swine flu vaccine would thus come at the expense of seasonal vaccine production, says retired pharma executive and flu vaccine expert David Fedson, and might lead to higher mortality and morbidity from the three seasonal strains.For now, WHO says manufacturers should continue preparing vaccine for the 2009-10 flu season. But that could change if swineflu proves particularly severe. “We’re in a casino now, and we’re placing our bets,” says Fedson.”

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