Flu Realities

(9 am. – promoted by ek hornbeck)

I travel a lot. I see preparations being made to deal with a pandemic at airports and in different ways by different governments. I asked colleagues who work in epidemiology what we were dealing with and how much I should worry. Here’s what they said:

  • This flu, which they call H1N1, not Swine Flu, is what they call a novel virus, in that it is new and have never been recorded or analysed before this outbreak.
  • A novel virus is unpredictable in that there is no built up immunity in populations and, therfore, it can spread quickly.
  • The current H1N1 is sensitive to (can be fought with) Tamaflu and Relenza.  That’s the good news.  It is not sensitive to two other antivirals, which can be a problem if it mutates to become Tamiflu or Relenza resistant.
  • The current working theory about its origin is a Smithfield Foods (American hog factory farm company) affiliate outside Mexico City.  The suspected patient zero was a boy from a nearby village where almost half were stricken earlier this year.  What is significant is that the villagers had been complaining for sometime about open hog waste ponds where ducks were present and biting insects fed.  One possibility (not proven) is that the ducks had bird flu which mingled with swine flu.  The biting insects picked up both and infected people who already had human flu, as February is Mexico’s flu season and very few people are inoculated.  
  • The World Health Organization (WHO) is upping their alert level to 5.  This is significant.  6 is a full blown out of control pandemic.  This will release measures to deal with the problem across borders and means they’re concerned about countries that don’t have the measures in place that we do in the developed nations.

What you can do to protect yourself below the fold…

In a word, keep your hands clean.  Carry an alcohol based (min 62%) hand sanitizer.  Before you touch your nose, eyes, mouth, ears or any cut or sore, clean your hands. As an extra precautionary measure, you could also use medical masks (like K95 and N95) of good quality to cover your nose and mouth. If you are interested, then checking out web stores, which have N95 masks for sale, could be a good idea.  

If you are around someone who seems sick or has just gotten back from Mexico — if they’re asymptomatic, then keep your hands clean.  If they’re sneezing or otherwise ill, tell them to go to a doctor and keep your hands clean and if you get symptoms, go to a doctor immediately.

If you or your child gets seriously ill, take it seriously; go to a doctor, arrange to stay home and tell your work you need to telecommute — that last bit is advised by Homeland Security, so use that policy to convince your boss, as it is a governmental request.

About pork:  I’d be happy if no one ate it, and see factory farms as the polluters they are, so have no problem if they’re forced to clean up their act.  However, and this is important, you can’t catch H1N1 from bacon or other pork products.  As with all meats, you need to cook it thoroughly and wash your hands after handling.  

My colleagues’ last bit of advice:

We’re lucky, so far, that this seems to be a flu that is sensitive to two antivirals.  That may help to contain it and should save lives.  There is an effort already underway to produce a vaccine.  Some say May, but it may take longer.  At this point, there’s no need to panic or alter your routine beyond the advice about keeping your hands sterile.  

That may change rapidly, as flus are unpredictable, but that’s where it is right now.  


  1. Popping in for moment.  Lots going on.  Will check back later.


  2. since I know some, one in L.A…. and my own husband, of course, right here in Houston.

    thanks for this very good info, stormchaser.

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