I’ve been hearing lots of grumblings about swine flu and the overblown response to it.
Some blame it on the media. Some blame it on Obama.
I’m blaming it on SARS. I keep thinking about a floor plan that a researcher put up on a Powerpoint slide back in 2003, when SARS quickly spread from the Guangdong province of China to infect more than 8,000 people in 37 countries, killing 810 in a matter of weeks. I was sitting in a Babson classroom, along with other members of the Blue Cross/Blue Shield Health Coverage Fellowship, listening to the man describe how scientists tracked the spread of the disease.
The hotel was in Kowloon and was the temporary home of eight people who contracted the disease during their stay. They were all on the same floor. They all used the same elevator. Aside from that, they had no physical contact — the disease hopped from room to room, spread through causal contact in the elevator, perhaps through the air conditioning. The travelers then dispersed to points around the world — Canada, Singapore, Hong Kong, Vietnam — inflecting others along the way.
SARS was considered a near pandemic — pandemic is the emergence of a disease new to the population that spreads easily among humans. Swine flu, or as the World Health Organization is calling it now, “influenza A (H1N1)” (nice try, guys, but it’s not as catchy as “swine flu” and doesn’t lend itself to cute pictures of a girl kissing a pig passed around via email), has now reached pandemic status.
Why should we care about another strain of the flu when the flu comes around every year?
“Let me remind you. New diseases are, by definition, poorly understood,” Dr. Margaret Chan, WHO director-general said in a press conference this week. “Influenza viruses are notorious for their rapid mutation and unpredictable behaviour.”
We have WHO exactly for this reason. But back to Chan:
The biggest question, right now, is this: how severe will the pandemic be, especially now at the start?
It is possible that the full clinical spectrum of this disease goes from mild illness to severe disease. We need to continue to monitor the evolution of the situation to get the specific information and data we need to answer this question.
From past experience, we also know that influenza may cause mild disease in affluent countries, but more severe disease, with higher mortality, in developing countries.
On a lighter note, I’m still getting Tweets from what now appears to be the entire cast of Stephen King’s “The Stand” on Twitter and I’ve picked up the giant book again. Great read. My post on the matter appears to be under discussion on what I believe to be a Finnish message board, judging by my traffic.