National Geographic gives me links to stories that help in understanding flu outbreak implications…

May 18, 2009

Since first posting this blog I have received a comment that will give the readers two direct links to National Geographic articles on the subject at hand. The comment and links are at the end of this blog.

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Sometimes when I have a lot of time on my hands, which is quite often these days, I actually read articles in National Geographic as opposed to just thumbing through the photographs.

Quite by accident I ran across an article in the October 2005 issue of National Geographic that questioned when the next flu pandemic would arrive. What with the current swine flu, or Influenza A, H1N1, I thought that was certainly prescient. At the time, the big concern was the avian flu in Asia. I recall that there was great worry that migratory birds might spread it across the ocean to here in the good old USA. I guess the avian flu is still a concern, but I found what the article said about flu in general and its references to the great pandemic in 1918 and the outbreaks in 1957, and ‘68 enormously interesting.

One item that caught my eye was that pigs can catch avian flu from birds and can catch flu from humans and that a new strain could result. Could that be what has happened this time around? I also heard the rumor that the current swine flu might have been the result of a flu strain escaping from a laboratory. I heard that on the Dr. Dean Ewell radio program yesterday (that was probably a taped repeat from last week) . He seemed to doubt it, but did not totally discredit it.

There has been some accusations that health officials and the news media overreacted in this current outbreak that first came into the news in April, which so far, although it has spread throughout the world and is blamed for many deaths, does not seem to be as bad as might have been feared. But after reading the National Geographic article I referred to, I can see why there is concern. The truth is scientists and doctors don’t know the potential of this flu or future flu outbreaks and can only go by what they have learned so far. And if a new strain was to get away from containment efforts in the early stages there might be no stopping it. This current strain I think did get away, but so far is not as virulent or as survivable itself, as might have been feared (it seems so far).

I did read about the 55-year-old assistant principal dying over the weekend in New York. The flu is going through the school system there. His death was attributed at least partly to the swine flu. It was also reported he may have had another underlying condition.

I suffered from an upset stomach last night and some other intestinal problems, shall we say. I think it may be due to eating too many oranges on Sunday or even a restaurant meal I ate going out to lunch with my mother. But the thoughts of swine flu were on my mind. But I don’t seem to have flu symptoms at this time (headache and extreme body ache or fever).

———–Update:

Feeling much better today, May 19. I think it was the oranges. I swallowed a couple of seeds. They were Valencias.

————–

A few days ago I blogged that the swine flu had come to the city and the county where I live (at the top of California’s Sacramento Valley). The count of flu cases here, as I said, so far is 1 and the victim has recovered. A day or two ago I read that there was a case in the next county south of here, same result.

And I sure hope that was the oranges that made my stomach ache.

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Swine flu statistics still hard to follow, but my local count is 1 case, 0 deaths…

May 12, 2009

It seems difficult to get accurate swine flu statistics off the web. The numbers don’t always add up and each story or each site seems to list things differently. But I think I have a handle so far on the statistics in the town and county in which I live, at the north end of California’s Sacramento Valley: Cases, 1 reported and one confirmed (the same case, so the number is 1); Deaths, 0. (This local case was just officially confirmed today.)

Worldwide, I’ll just go with the current Wikipedia count of 6,042 cases and 63 deaths, with 58 of them reported out of Mexico, 3 in the U.S. and 1 in Canada and 1 in Costa Rica (and as I have previously noted, statistics get jumbled between suspected, reported – by whom? – and confirmed).

There was also a somewhat bizarre report out of Canada that pigs caught swine flu from a human who had just returned from Canada, but at last report, none died (pigs that is). But I guess in Egypt they overreacted and slaughtered thousands of swine for no apparent reason, except for the name “swine flu”. Meanwhile, the last I heard it had not been determined whether the so-called swine flu in Mexico, thought to be the nation of origin in the current epidemic, had actually originated from pigs. And the official name for the current brand of swine flu is Influenza A (H1N1). The swine industry, and maybe others, I suppose, had pushed for a name change.

The local case to which I referred involved a resident who had just returned from a trip to Mexico. The local TV news just said he is now completely recovered. The first report of him going to a local hospital emergency room was only a few days ago.

This current swine flu epidemic (or pandemic?) was not officially confirmed as such until about mid April. I can see that from what we know now about this fairly steady but slow-moving and so far not terribly deadly virus, sealing off the Mexico-U.S. Border probably would have been an overreaction (I had blogged that it should at least be seriously considered). But the contention by officials that it would not do any good seems to be belied by the fact that had not this local individual been allowed to cross in and out of Mexico we would not have had this particular local swine flu case.

But this is all way out of my league. I don’t mind so much opinionating on politics and such, but how to handle health emergencies I’ll leave up to the professionals (for the most part).


Swine flu a liberal plot, Limburger (not his real name, but the odor is the same) and Paul suggest…

May 3, 2009

I suspected it and I now think I know where the no nothings I heard the other day got their pitch that the swine flu story is just a gimic or diversion that the Obama administration has cooked up to take the public’s eyes off of what they are doing (ruining the nation, turning it into a socialist state, making us all Godless, or whatever).

None other than Rush Limburger (not his real name, but the odor is the same) is making that pitch. I don’t listen to him these days, but I caught a clip of his spiel on a cable news show.

For now I’ll stick with science, as much as I can understand it. It all is confusing and it seems as if the feared pandemic is thankfully not turning out to be as bad as originally anticipated, but we still don’t fully know its potential.

I for one am glad that the powers that be, the World Health Organization and the world’s governments, are taking this seriously.

Has there been overreaction, perhaps, but I see little harm done so far if that has been the case. I did hear Texas congressman, former presidential candidate (in the primary), libertarian, and medical doctor Ron Paul claim that the whole thing has been overblown and liberals are using the swine flu as a scare tactic to convince people that they must be totally dependent upon government. While I actually see some, only some mind you, semblence of a point to his argument, I think we can all make our own minds up on that.

(Paul also claimed that back in 1976 there was a previous swine flu scare and that only one person died from the swine flu, but 25 died from being innoculated against it. I do not know the authenticity of that — have not tried to look it up — but I am sure that will now become part of the official talking points of the Limburger cheese crowd too. I would say, though, I would be against mandatory innoculations if that were ever suggested.  Okay, I felt guilty and did check this out on Wikipedia and it told me that the swine flu deaths from innoculations back in 1976 were unconfirmed. There had been a mandatory innoculation program at that time but delays and fears over the innoculations prevented everyone from getting vaccinated. Seems like I recall getting a flu shot back then, but I am not sure about that one. )

The rest of this blog I have previously posted on Saturday except for an update to an update, and I offer it for those who may not have read it:

—————–

I’m confused. Not a new state for me. But just how many people have died in Mexico from the swine flu?

For a couple of days or more the figure reported on the web, in newspapers, and on the television has been around 150.

Yesterday (Friday) I heard some know nothings tell a racially-tinged joke about President Obama (so that gave me a clue as to their credibility) and also proclaim that there had only been 10 deaths in Mexico and that the whole thing was some type of diversion President Obama was orchestrating to distract from his political agenda. So I just dismissed what they said.

Then I pick up my morning newspaper and read in the middle of the latest swine flu update (I’m talking way into the depths of the jumped from page one to the middle of the paper story) that there have been 16 (not 150, although the story did not even acknowledge that higher figure having been reported) confirmed swine flu deaths in Mexico.

As a former journalist I am nervous about statistics. They almost always get reporters into trouble. One has to be careful about reporting numbers when they deal with breaking and/or ongoing news stories, because first of all you are not sure as to the accuracy and second of all by the time anyone reads what you write the numbers have changed one way or the other from updated information. But if you were to wait until everyone was absolutely sure you would be writing ancient history. Broadcast news people just spit out the numbers and seldom go backwards to correct what they might have said before and few listeners are going to try to get the video tape to prove their errors (or the errors of the statistics — I once tried to get info from a local TV station and they offered to sell me a copy of their video tape).

So anyway, I checked out Wikipedia today, my instant source for so much info (is it reliable? I don’t really know) and it said 16 deaths from swine flu have been confirmed in Mexico. That seems a lot less than 150.

I suppose the problem is the difference between reported (who’s doing the reporting?), suspected, and confirmed.

And then there is the name “swine flu”. So far, as I understand it, no pigs have been detected with this swine flu even though it has been suspected it originated in swine and in Mexico. I even read that pig farmers, besides being angry and fearful of the bad publicity this all has given their product, pork, are also concerned that humans could infect their animals with swine flu.

And there has been an effort to change the name of the disease from swine flu to 2009 H1N1 or Influenza A (H1N1), but so far many of the accounts I am reading still call it swine flu (to avoid confusion, I suppose).

Earlier in the week I read a post by an obviously right wing, evangelical, concerned about Mexicans sneaking across the border (and I don’t discount the problem of illegal immigration) group that proposed to call swine flu the “Mexican flu” or the “killer Mexican flu”. And then yesterday I saw a headline in a German newspaper that called it the “Mexikogrippe”, most German papers are calling it the “Schweinegrippe” (and by the way, “grippe” is what folks here in the good old USA used to call the flu years ago. And I was taught in Spanish class that “la gripe” means the flu. And I read today that in Israel they are calling the swine flu the Mexican flu.

So anyway this whole thing is confusing what with the changing statistics and the name thing. The news today of course is that it may be petering out. We all hope so.

———–

UPDATE: I don’t know if I should even do this since I just now read it hours after posting the above and don’t know if it will hold true, but I just read on the CNN website that a farmer (update to this update, it was now reportedly a farm worker) in Alberta, Canada is suspected of giving his pigs swine flu. He reportedly had recently returned from a trip to Mexico. More erroneous info — I wonder.

—————–

P.s.

And as most of you know, flu is short for influenza. And my problem is that when I type flu it often comes out flue, like on the pipe coming out of your roof.


Swine flu (H1N1, Mexico flu?) numbers reporting misleading…

May 2, 2009

I’m confused. Not a new state for me. But just how many people have died in Mexico from the swine flu?

For a couple of days or more the figure reported on the web, in newspapers, and on the television has been around 150.

Yesterday (Friday) I heard some know nothings tell a racially-tinged joke about President Obama (so that gave me a clue as to their credibility) and also proclaim that there had only been 10 deaths in Mexico and that the whole thing was some type of diversion President Obama was orchestrating to distract from his political agenda. So I just dismissed what they said.

Then I pick up my morning newspaper and read in the middle of the latest swine flu update (I’m talking way into the depths of the jumped from page one to the middle of the paper story) that there have been 16 (not 150, although the story did not even acknowledge that higher figure having been reported) confirmed swine flu deaths in Mexico.

As a former journalist I am nervous about statistics. They almost always get reporters into trouble. One has to be careful about reporting numbers when they deal with breaking and/ or ongoing news stories, because first of all you are not sure as to the accuracy and second of all by the time anyone reads what you write the numbers have changed one way or the other from updated information. But if you were to wait until everyone was absolutely sure you would be writing ancient history. Broadcast news people just spit out the numbers and seldom go backwards to correct what they might have said before and few listeners are going to try to get the video tape to prove their errors (or the errors of the statistics — I once tried to get info from a local TV station and they offered to sell me a copy of their video tape).

So anyway, I checked out Wikipedia today, my instant source for so much info (is it reliable? I don’t really know) and it said 16 deaths from swine flu have been confirmed in Mexico. That seems a lot less than 150.

I suppose the problem is the difference between reported (who’s doing the reporting?), suspected, and confirmed.

And then there is the name “swine flu”. So far, as I understand it, no pigs have been detected with this swine flu even though it has been suspected it originated in swine and in Mexico. I even read that pig farmers, besides being angry and fearful of the bad publicity this all has given their product, pork, are also concerned that humans could infect their animals with swine flu.

And there has been an effort to change the name of the disease from swine flu to 2009 H1N1 or Influenza A (H1N1), but so far many of the accounts I am reading still call it swine flu (to avoid confusion, I suppose).

Earlier in the week I read a post by an obviously right wing, evangelical, concerned about Mexicans sneaking across the border (and I don’t discount the problem of illegal immigration) group that proposed to call swine flu the “Mexican flu” or the “killer Mexican flu”. And then yesterday I saw a headline in a German newspaper that called it the “Mexikogrippe”, most German papers are calling it the “Schweinegrippe” (and by the way, “grippe” is what folks here in the good old USA used to call the flu years ago. And I was taught in Spanish class that “la gripe” means the flu. And I read today that in Israel they are calling the swine flu the Mexican flu.

So anyway this whole thing is confusing what with the changing statistics and the name thing. The news today of course is that it may be petering out. We all hope so.

———–

UPDATE: I don’t know if I should even do this since I just now read it hours after posting the above and don’t know if it will hold true, but I just read on the CNN website that a farmer in Alberta, Canada is suspected of giving his pigs swine flu. He reportedly had recently returned from a trip to Mexico. More erroneous info — I wonder.

—————–

P.s.

And as most of you know, flu is short for influenza. And my problem is that when I type flu it often comes out flue, like on the pipe coming out of your roof.


For a likely pandemic, swine flu outbreak seems relatively mild for now, and why shouldn’t the Mexican border be closed???

April 30, 2009

While I am not for a minute underestimating the potential of the 2009 H1N1 virus, better known as the swine flu, it seems that for now for what is seen as a potential for a pandemic is not acting like a pandemic.

That is to say that although Mexico has suffered 150 or more deaths officially attributed to the H1N1 virus – let’s just call it swine flu with no offense to pigs or pork – it does not seem to be terribly deadly elsewhere – yet. The U.S. has only suffered one death and that was a child who came here from Mexico seeking medical treatment. As of this writing I have not read nor heard about deaths elsewhere (although news changes rapidly).

A look at the current numbers (and realize that by the time many read this they no longer will be current) shows 109 confirmed cases in the U.S. and a handful in the various regions of the world. It seems that most of the cases can be attributed to the simple fact that people travel directly from Mexico to other areas of the world. A member of President Obama’s staff and his family are suspected of having contracted the swine flu, it has been reported. There had even been concern for the president himself when one report said that an official with whom he shook hands on his recent trip to Mexico later died, but last I heard it was not from the swine flu (maybe it was old age, I don’t know).

So anyway, 150 deaths in Mexico (some say no more than might be attributed in any given year or less to the more regular forms of flu), and 109 cases (and counting?) in the U.S. and as I said a handful elsewhere. I should note that Mexico reports 2,400 suspected cases.

———–

AND HERE IS AN UPDATE FROM MY ORIGINAL POST:

The World Health Organization (WHO) is now calling the current swine flu virus Influenza A (H1N1).

The latest numbers as of this update (late Thursday evening my time) are 257 confirmed cases world-wide, 109 in the U.S. and 97 in Mexico.

I will also note here that I have been reading that so far this current virus has actually not been detected in pigs (that’s curious).

————-

But the world population is 6.7 billion. So by any measure, the potential pandemic is small at this time.

According to current news reports, the swine flu is suspected to have begun in a Mexican village in the state of Veracruz where the villagers think it may have originated from a commercial hog farm (run by a U.S. company). Tests, though, reportedly have come up negative for swine flu at that hog farm. It has also been reported that villagers there reported getting sick as far back as April 2 and I have also read as far back as February.

So, anyway, the swine flu spread in Mexico and then because of travel spread to the U.S. and elsewhere.

I have to wonder why the border has not been shut down. Perhaps that would be an overreaction, but I do not understand the rationale given by officials in the Obama administration and the advice of health authorities that it would be useless since the virus has already traveled here.

Would not more cases coming in increase the likelihood of increased transmission by some exponential effect? I am not calling for a border shutdown, but I would be interested to know why it should not be seriously considered, at least till things are sorted out. I realize it would have a drastic effect on the economy (more than has already taken place) and the lives of people who find themselves for family reasons going back and forth, but so could a pandemic.

The big mystery in all of this is why the swine flu seems to be harder on the Mexican population than those elsewhere. It seems as if the cases people are contracting elsewhere seem to be milder so far.

While I am out of my league in a matter that only doctors would understand, I have to wonder if the lack of healthy and sanitary living conditions in much of Mexico is the reason. I have not heard that discussed (although it may have been). Maybe that would not be politically correct.

Mexican citizens themselves can hardly be blamed for the swine flu. For all I know it may be the fault of U.S. hog farm (factory) operations in Mexico (or not). But it is interesting to note that with the amount of world travel there is, a heath problem in one nation becomes a health problem everywhere.

P.s.

One health official noted today that in the southern hemisphere (that would of course be considerably south of Mexico) winter is coming on and it will be important to see if the virus will take off there. Also health officials are looking at the fact it could show a resurgence here in the northern hemisphere next Fall. I understand the so-called second wave of the influenza pandemic back in 1918 was the worst part of it.

P.s. P.s.

There has also been an observation that unlike other flu strains that seem to leave the very young and the very old most vulnerable, this one seems to strike otherwise healthy people not in those two afore-mentioned catergories. And there has been talk that perhaps people with healthy immune systems are more vulnerable because in reaction to this new strain  their immune systems overreact. No, I have no idea how that is. I’d like to read more about that.


Exploding swine flu vials, now there’s something to be concerned about; meanwhile, pigs are getting a bad rap…

April 29, 2009

UPDATE: Since I first posted this blog the World Health Organizaton has raised its alert level on swine flu to its second highest mark, phase 5, meaning a pandemic (epidemic over a wide geographical area) is imminent.  Germany and Austria have been added to the list of nations reporting swine flu. “It really is all of humanity that is under threat during a pandemic,” the health organization director Dr. Margaret Chan was quoted as saying.

————————————–

 

So, amid all this concern, anxiety, panic, or however you might describe it over the swine flu, a container filled with swine flu virus explodes on a train carrying 60 passengers in Switzerland.

That’s what I read on the Der Spiegel website.

According to the story, officials assured everyone that even though it was swine flu, it was a strain of the virus somehow different than the one that is killing people in Mexico and seems to be spreading world wide (I don’t know the science of that).

Just like it was noted in the story, it was something like a plot for a science fiction movie (although it really happened). A lab technician out of Geneva had been sent to Zurich to pick up several ampules of the flu virus that were to be used in testing for the flu epidemic. The ampules were hermetically sealed and packed in dry ice in the container, but apparently not packed properly and gas escaped, resulting in the explosion. The train was evacuated and passengers were held for an hour, but then released. But officials said they did take contact information, presumably for followup.

In a previous blog I said that I would be making sure to use hand sanitizer a lot (I already had been doing that compulsively after going through a bout of low-immune system problems in the recent past – I’m supposedly okay now).

So where did I go today? To one of our local hospitals to visit an ailing brother-in-law (not from the swine flu). But I did use plenty of sanitizer while I was there, but I did not wear a face mask (I just try to hold my breath when people crowd too close, like in the elevator).

There has now been at least one confirmed death in the U.S. from swine flue, a 23-month old child in Houston, Tx. The child had been in Mexico. Some 150 deaths in Mexico have been attributed to the swine flu.

I  read a story that said students from a New York School had been in Cancun, Mexico and contracted the virus. Now hundreds of students in New York have reportedly come down with the flu.

Several U.S. states have reported cases. And several nations around the world have reported cases, to include New Zealand, Israel, Canada, Great Britain (to include Scotland) and Spain.

As everyone is reporting it is called swine flu because originally it was a virus found in pigs and sometimes transmitted from them to humans. This virus seems to have mutated and is being transmitted from human to human. The experts do not have a lot of answers yet and seem to be saying there is not much they can do to fight it right now.

As to the source, I have heard at least two reports (details unclear – partly because I did not take my own notes when I heard them) that workers at a commercial hog farm or farms in Mexico reported getting a flu-like sickness, possibly as far back as February.

It has now been reported that a 5-year-old boy in the Mexican state of Veracruz had the first identified case of swine flu. It was recorded on April 2. He appeared to be recovering at last word. His family reportedly lives near a large U.S.-owned hog farm. But tests there for swine flu were said to be negative.

U.S. companies are running what would more accurately be described as hog factories in Mexico. They run them in the U.S. too, but they get a lot of opposition. The animals are raised in tight confinement and there is a lot of waste.

Even though health officials have repeatedly said you cannot get the swine flu from eating pork (but you should cook it well – that has always been the case with pork), at least one hog industry member said the market is being affected adversely.

In Egypt the government has ordered that all pigs be slaughtered. Although Egypt is a predominantly Muslim nation, whose adherants don’t eat pork, pig farmers there sell pork to the Christian minority. (What the thinking is on this I don’t know, since the disease is reportedly being spread from human to human despite its name.)

I sure don’t like the idea of those commercial hog factories. I raised pigs once when I was in high school and a member of the Future Farmers of America. But mine were not confined in a tight space. And I’ve seen plenty of places where pigs were raised with much open room to run, even on pasture. Pigs love to forage and root.

And contrary to popular conception and the vernacular (“dirty as a pig”), pigs by nature are quite intelligent and clean animals when they can be. They do like to wallow in mud. That’s because they have no pores through which to sweat. On a hot day they love a pig wallow.

My pigs drank out of a fountain which they had to push their snouts up against for the water to run. Also, “eat like a pig” might be accurate if comparing someone’s eating manner to a pig at the trough, but in reality pigs only eat until they are full, whereas a cow or especially a horse will eat until they are sick.

But pigs are highly susceptible to contracting various diseases that afflict swine.

I personally think there ought to be a law against cramped confinement of swine and all other animals. I’m not big on cattle feedlots either. In fact, feedlot type feeding has been linked to mad cow disease (you’d go mad too).

But I would not be concerned about eating sufficiently-cooked pork. And I am going to keep using that hand sanitizer.

P.s.

Due to concerns of the swine industry, at least one health official said there is some consideration in coming up with a new name for what is being called the swine flu.  And what I gather is some type of fundamentalist right wing group called SaveCalifornia.com is calling on President Obama to close the border with Mexico and is calling the virus the “killer Mexican flu”.