flu


Good news for everybody who doesn’t have A/H1N1 swine flu yet -recent studies suggest that just one low dose of the vaccine could stop you from contracting the highly contagious but so far mostly mild strain of flu. Isn’t that awesome? Now instead of dying in your sickbed, you can live to see the total collapse of society brought about by legions of sniffling rioters who didn’t get vaccines.

Sure, it’s a mixed blessing, but look on the bright side – at least you won’t fall victim to some filthy animal disease.

The Evergreen State has H1N1 flu all over the damned place! Washington State University saw as many as 2,500 cases of…something. Something we’re not going to finish testing in every case.But for the sake of argument, let’s just call it swine flu.

And this weekend, the biggest gamer convention on the west coast turned into a plague house, with PAX attendees coming down with the flu just in time to get on a plane and spread it to a town near you.

For those of you who are playing the ‘Swine Flu Freakout Game’ at home, the time to panic is… now!

Do you ever have that sinking feeling that your best effort – isn’t quite good enough?

This would seem very much to be the case concerning global efforts to combat the spread of the A/H1N1 influenza virus – that’s swine flu if your feeling nasty. Since it roared onto the scene months ago, the A/H1N1 virus has continued spreading unabated across the world. So what’s being done to make sure this thing doesn’t get out of hand? Are we hiring help to take the stress off of the embattled school nurses who will be on the front lines when the US school year starts? Or making sure at risk groups like parents of school aged kids get vaccinated?

Nah. We’re making sure all the really important flu prevention techniques are hitting the ground running. Like lame browser video games and homemade YouTube PSAs.

So when your major metro area is shut down by swine flu in the coming months, just remember – we couldn’t have done any better. And that is incredibly pitiful.

Who is America’s front line defense against the swine flu pandemic?

Legions of underpaid, overworked school nurses who are often responsible for overseeing the health of hundreds or thousands of children on their own.

I don’t know about you, but the knowledge that the most serious potential health crisis in recent history will be managed on the ground by a group of people who, in my experience, find it vexing to administer care for injuries related to falling off the monkey bars makes me feel safer already.

The New York Times is reporting that more than 120 American soldiers stationed in Iraq are thought to have come down with or be carrying the A/H1N1 swine flu virus that continues to spread at alarming rates throughout the world.

Iraq has been exceedingly wary of the A/H1N1 virus, sending health teams to meet international flights and quarantining passengers showing symptoms of swine flu. But US soldiers who aren’t subjected to these screenings represent a gaping hole in Iraqi defense against the virus. And with this news, it appears the other sick, coughing boot has finally dropped on the matter.

So despite it’s best precautions, Iraq can probably expect it’s first domestic case of swine flu in the coming weeks, probably to be followed by a slew of stories about how ill prepared for an epidemic the nation is. Cases of swine flu have a certain cockroach like quality to them – when you see one, you’ve got a lot more you don’t know about. And if more than 100 soldiers are suspected of having swine flu, it’s a safe bet that one of the many members of the Iraqi military and police they come in contact with on a daily basis has become a vector for the disease, too.

Which is – you guessed it! –  more bad news for Iraqis, who at this point should, frankly, really be used to it.

Virologists at the University of Wisconsin – Madison have completed a detailed study of the H1N1 swine flu virus, and the news is…well, it’s less than good.

The virus, which has demonstrated a filament shape unusual in flu viruses, has the potential to be much more severe than most researchers have thought so far. That’s because, in addition to being more apt to reproduce itself within lung tissue, the H1N1 virus has demonstrated an ability to infect cells deep within lung tissue far beyond that of a standard seasonal flu virus.

This capacity for infiltrating further into the lungs distinguishes the H1N1 virus, according to researchers, including study leader Dr. Yoshihiro Kawaoka, who stated that “There is clear evidence the virus is different than seasonal influenza.” Where most flu viruses only affect the upper respiratory system, the H1N1 bug can go much deeper, bringing about pneumonia, bronchitis and possibly death.

The truly unnerving thing to note about this study, published this month in the journal Nature, is that the ability to penetrate deep into the lungs is something we’ve seen before. The trait was also expressed in the 1918 flu pandemic that killed tens of millions worldwide. The fact that people born before 1918 seem to have antibodies against the H1N1 swine flu further suggests that we’re looking at a flu virus whose closest corollary wiped out significant swaths of humanity almost a century ago, when passing flu from one community to another was significantly more difficult.

In other words – this could be a bad one. And while most people seem to have stopped worrying about it, I’m staying at a Level Orange Alert (at least while we still have one) on the matter of a swine flu pandemic. Not every disease du’ jour is going to be the next big thing in global health crises (see also, SARS, bird flu, West Nile virus) but eventually, something is going to break big, and the current H1N1 strain is a pretty likely candidate for doing some real damage. Add to that the fact that a serious outbreak (deaths, high fear of contagion, etc.) during  flu season in the US this year would deliver a hammer blow to a global economy still struggling to get it’s feet, and set back progress on that front at a time we can ill afford it?

Sound like a worst case scenario? It is. But it’s not at all one that’s outside the realm of possibility right now. And I know I may sound unreasonably doom and gloom, but hey, a paranoid is just someone who has all the facts, right? I’m not saying the sky is falling, but the common consensus seems to be that this thing is no cause for concern, an I just don’t buy that line.

The study does have a silver lining, in that anti-viral drugs seemed to be an effective first line of defense against the virus. But with a working vaccine probably unavailable until the end of the year, they’re also the only line of defense at this point.

Authorities in the United kingdom are clamoring for better tracking of the spread of H1N1 swine flu so they can better understand what they’re dealing with. Better mapping of outbreaks and tracking of fatalities could be be the best bet for helping to understand and hope to control the spread of the virus. That said, it’s beginning to look more and more like this is simply going to get as bad as it’s going to get – no matter what we do, a worldwide pandemic may just be something we’ll have to batten down the hatches for.

Especially considering that vaccine deliveries may be delayed by a month or two in the UK, and with sources predicting up to 100,000 cases a day,  humanity doesn’t really have a month head start to give. On the flip side, Brits should be happy they’re getting anything at all. Getting supplies of a vaccine against a world wide virus when there’s not going to be nearly enough around is just one of the many fringe benefits of being a wealthy nation.

More bad news about H1N1 tomorrow morning when the really bad stuff hits the fan.

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