Keeping Swine Flu in Perspective
by: Laurie Johnson, April 29, 2009 9:04:00 am
The flu is the flu. That's how Dr. Ed Hsu puts it. Hsu, with the UT School of Health Information Sciences, says Swine Flu, although unexpected and largely unchecked, is not the most aggressive strain out there.
"And compared to the SARS outbreak, we are in a much better place, because at that time nobody knew what to do and no medication and no — they were in a state of chaos. But this time, the federal government and the federal support has really helped us develop and build our infrastructure and rely on previous experience. And we can survive and go this experience together."
Swine Flu is less deadly than SARS or Avian Flu. Only about 10 percent of infected people have died.That's compared to 15 percent of those infected with SARS and 60 percent who had bird flu. But there's no vaccine to prevent the spread, and that's what has officials so concerned. Dr. Richard Besser is director of the Centers for Disease Control.
"The seasonal flu vaccine is a great vaccine, but it doesn't protect against the strain of flu that was not circulating at that time. And at this point, we don't see that there was protective value from that vaccine for this new strain. Moving forward, though, into the future, vaccine is something that we are looking at very intently."
It's hard to predict how a new strain of the flu virus will behave. But Dr. Hsu says if it follows a similar pattern as Avian flu, infections could drop off within the next few weeks.
"If the trend continues, or the trend holds true for this particular strain, we might see a couple months break after mid-May, even toward the end of May. And then that will kind of help us get ready for vaccine or preventive programs until it might re-emerge again and rise again in September."
And by September, health officials could have prevention therapies in place. Either way, the CDC is taking the outbreak very seriously, deploying anti-viral drugs, masks and gowns from the Strategic National Stockpile.
"And why are we taking this action? Well, we're doing so because with any new infectious disease, with any emerging infection, you really can't predict the course. And so this is to ensure that if these drugs are needed, states have them on hand and they don't have to wait."
Besser says while the public should not panic, widespread concern over Swine Flu is a good thing if it drives planning and action in local communities.
Laurie Johnson. KUHF-Houston Public Radio News.