Friday, May 01, 2009
The Swine Flu and the Genetic Mystery
As Mexico prepares to shutdown.
The big question remains a mystery.
The WHO and flu experts say they do not yet know enough about the new strain to say how deadly it actually is, how far it might spread and how long any potential pandemic may last.
So we still don't know why it only seems to be killing people in Mexico. Or even how many of dead in that country were really killed by the bug.
Did they die because secondary infections like pneumonia couldn't be properly treated because of antibiotic resistance, which is a big problem in poor countries?
Or are there TWO strains of the virus out there? One mild one that spreads relatively easily. And another more deadly version that doesn't.
The good news is that the virus' genetic structure is being closely examined so we should find out soon.
The bad news is that because it doesn't seem to be a lethal threat anywhere but Mexico, people, might become complacent, not take enough precautions.
And forget that even a mild pandemic virus can do a lot of damage. Even in a place like Canada.
Pierre Trudeau invoked the War Measures Act in 1970 to battle radical Quebec separatists. Would Prime Minister Stephen Harper invoke its successor to combat the flu?
Given that officials estimate between 10,000 and 58,000 deaths in a "mild" pandemic, provinces and municipalities would be tasked with ensuring morgues and cemeteries have enough capacity.
Because if we can help it we really don't want to go there.
So a little fear is not necessarily a bad thing.
Active caution, then, is what is called for. The world’s policymakers, most of whom live in the northern hemisphere, should not be fooled into thinking the new virus is going away for long, even if it declines over the next few months. Instead, as in any phoney war, they should use the time they have been granted to reinforce the world’s defences by stocking up with antiviral medicine and making vaccines.
As for the WHO's decision to protect the pork producers of the world by changing the name of the virus....from the Swine Flu virus to the Influenza A H1N1 bug, I suppose that makes sense.
It presumably is in pigs somewhere, perhaps in Mexico. The 1918 human H1N1 established itself in pigs by 1930. But, as Dr. Niman pointed out, it could be only in humans now — or even in a ferret.
So while we wait for the answers and prepare for the worst. And wash our hands a lot.
Let's not panic eh?
And give the pigs a break...