I’ve posted before about the latest swine flu and it’s similarities to the 1918 version that killed more people than all the wars of the 20th century combined.
Over the weekend, I attended a talk given by Toby L. Merlin, the Deputy Director of the Influenza Coordination Unit at the CDC.
It was fascinating and frightening.
* H1N1 refers to certain characteristics of this flu that are shared by lots of other flu bugs. In other words, this is just one particular H1N1 flu. It’s not as thought H1N1 is specific to only THIS flu. But they’re talking about it that way because it’s easier.
So during the talk, he always referred to it as “the novel H1N1” or the new one, or the pandemic one.
* People born before 1957 or so seem to have some resistance to it. The assumption is that they were exposed to a different H1N1 virus that has since died out. So the elderly will NOT be specifically targeted this year for vaccination.
* 80% of the people who die from it have underlying health issues (with asthma being the number one issue). So if you’re healthy, you have a better chance of getting over it without much trouble.
* There will be at least two flu shots this year (one for seasonal flu and one or two doses for this flu).
The frightening stuff
It’s not that this flu has spread to everyone, or that it’s such a big killer (after all, it kills fewer infected people than simple seasonal flu does).
But note that it’s summer time. School is out. People spend their off-work days outside, rather than cooped up together. For these reasons, this is a time when normal flu dies out. It just can’t infect people in these extremely sub-optimal conditions.
But the new H1N1 virus is doing ok. It took three or four months to go from a few cases in Mexico to a worldwide pandemic. This is during spring and summer. So the question is, what’s going to happen in fall and winter?
Very soon now, the kids will be back in school all day, where one cough meets a lot of lungs. And as the weather gets colder, people will spend their off-time gathered indoors in close quarters. Think movie theaters, not softball games.
Flu season is coming, and this new flu will definitely take advantage of it.
* Oh, and this flu isn’t fully adapted to humans yet. They expect some more adaptations that will make it even more likely to spread.
Note: They’re not expecting it to evolve into something that kills more people per infection than it currently does. But they’re expecting such huge amounts of people to get it that the health system could become overwhelmed.