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Medicine News

US Declares Public Health Emergency Over Swine Flu 695

mallumax sends word from the NYTimes that US government officials today declared a public health emergency over increasing cases of the swine flu first seen in Mexico. Here is additional coverage from CNN. From the Times: "American health officials [say]... that they had confirmed 20 cases of the disease in the United States and expected to see more as investigators fan out to track down the path of the outbreak. Other governments around the world stepped up their response to the incipient outbreak, racing to contain the infection amid reports of potential new cases from New Zealand to Hong Kong to Spain, raising concerns about the potential for a global pandemic. The cases in US looked to be similar to the deadly strain of swine flu that has killed more than 80 people in Mexico and infected 1,300 more." Reader "The man who walks in the woods" sends a link to accounts emailed to the BBC from readers in Mexico. While these are anecdotal, they do paint a picture of a more serious situation than government announcements have indicated so far.
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US Declares Public Health Emergency Over Swine Flu

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  • by timeOday ( 582209 ) on Sunday April 26, 2009 @04:03PM (#27723185)
    The flu kills thousands of people every year. Why does this one have a special name? I can't decide how scared to be. As if there were anything I could do about it anyways.
  • by dogmatixpsych ( 786818 ) on Sunday April 26, 2009 @04:07PM (#27723227) Homepage Journal
    It would be easy to think that the government is just over-reacting to this swine flu, and they might be (that was my first impression), but it is better to over-react than to under-react and end up with a huge world-wide influenza epidemic such as occurred in 1918. Making the public slightly paranoid can help prevent the spread of the flu.
  • Google FluTrend (Score:0, Insightful)

    by Anonymous Coward on Sunday April 26, 2009 @04:08PM (#27723237)

    According to Google flutrends (http://www.google.org/flutrends), Flu activity is still LOW.

  • Re:God damn... (Score:4, Insightful)

    by spiffmastercow ( 1001386 ) on Sunday April 26, 2009 @04:09PM (#27723249)

    ...Mexican swines!

    Isn't 'swine' both singular and plural, like 'deer'?

  • by SnowZero ( 92219 ) on Sunday April 26, 2009 @04:16PM (#27723297)

    The flu kills thousands of people every year. Why does this one have a special name?

    So far it seems to have a 5% mortality rate, which is above normal. Usually mortality is 5% of those hospitalized, rather than 5% of all. Of course, the stats are from small numbers that are very new, so we'll have to wait for better information. It's certainly worth paying attention to though.

    I can't decide how scared to be. As if there were anything I could do about it anyways.

    If everyone would make an extra effort to wash their hands, cover their nose/mouth when coughing, and stay the f*** home from work/school when you are sick, that would help. If you can slow the spread, researchers can get a better understanding of the flu and how to treat it before everyone gets sick.

    Avian flu still seems much worse though, since it has a much higher mortality rate, in particular among the young. It doesn't seem to be able to spread as fast though, thus the concern about this new flu.

  • Google mashup? (Score:2, Insightful)

    by mork ( 62099 ) on Sunday April 26, 2009 @04:16PM (#27723299)

    So how long before we see a mashup of Google Maps and flu stats showing outbreak areas?

  • by Animaether ( 411575 ) on Sunday April 26, 2009 @04:32PM (#27723413) Journal

    If you'd take a little time to read about it... yes, it's 'really' special.

    I'm not saying "ZOMG WE'RE ALL GONNA DIE"-special - we're not, as it is, many of those infected happily survive.

    Let's start with 'the flu', though.. There is no 'the flu'. Influenza is a big ol' family of viruses.

    This one - although it baffles me why the media latched onto 'swine' as their name for it, maybe the pork industry lobbied strongly against naming it 'pork' or 'pig' flu - is one of the mutations of form H1N1 ('bird flu' was H5N1; H and N refer to certain protein types). That only tells part of the story as there's multiple H1N1s with different aminoacids and whatnot, like yea olde Spanish flu (yeah, the proper pandemic one) was H1N1 as well. There's the first 'special' bit; it shares a name with the Spanish flu.

    Won't go into details about how it differs from Spanish flu - suffice it to say that this particular strain of H1N1 influenza appears to be a mixture of porcine, bird and human flu viruses' RNA. From there comes the second 'special' bit. It's 'rare' that the flu jumps species from pigs to humans in general, even rarer for it to thrive, but even more rare that it appears to spread between humans.

    Now for the third special bit... even H5N1 - that other 'big scare' - mostly affected the (really) young, the elderly, and the weak in terms of severity. This one, however, seems to just as happily make young healthy adults sick.

    That's why it deserves its own little name. As for how scared you should be:
    'Swine' flu responds well to the relatively recent anti-flu drug Oseltamivir (marketing name: Tamiflu). That is to say, it gets killed pretty quickly and eradicated from the body if treatment is followed through (yeah, I know, right?). That's good news for the producers of Tamiflu who love having this in the news, and for their shareholders who saw their stock skyrocket as a result. It's pretty special that there's tons of people out there just waiting around to make money off of this kind of thing.
    Oh, and it's also good news for those infected, of course.

    Unfortunately, Tamiflu (and others) are prescribed willy-nilly as seasonal flu drugs (despite the CDC advising against it; like 'advice' matters if there's a mint to be made), making it all the more likely that more resistant strains will pop up in due time.
    At the same time, being a relatively recent drug, not all of the side-effects are fully known and understood yet.

    As for what you can do about it...
    - I wouldn't plan a trip to Mexico and go frolic with any pigs if I were you.
    - I wouldn't swap spit/etc. with any of the students already diagnosed as being possibly infected.
    - If you are infected with any type of flu.. cover your mouth when sneezing/coughing, wash hands regularly. Won't do much for you, but it'll help prevent spreading of it.

    Speaking of the CDC.. they have some pretty decent pages up as well:
    http://www.cdc.gov/swineflu/general_info.htm [cdc.gov]

  • Re:Yawn (Score:5, Insightful)

    by Daswolfen ( 1277224 ) on Sunday April 26, 2009 @04:34PM (#27723449)

    it may be 'disaster of the week' for you, but to those of us who can pay attention for more than 5 minutes will see the direct correlation between this and the 1918 epidemic that killed 50 million people world wide.

    The 1918 flu was theorized to have started in Kansas around March 4th. By March 11th it was spread as far as New York City. In weeks, it had mutated into a more virulent strain that went on to kill more people than WWI had. It had killed an estimated 20 million people in 25 weeks, and that was without global air travel.

    I hope that this is just a minor incident and a false alarm, but since it has already proven to be resistant to the first two of the four major flu anti-virals (the neuraminidase inhibitors - Tamiflu and Relenza are the ones that seem to be effective so far), that in and of itself is cause for concern.

    And if 80+ dead in 1000+ cases worldwide so far(and they are mostly healthy and young) are not more than 'nervous hand wringing' to you, then you are a fool. Add to that, is the fact that it has spread globally in a few days, spreads person to person rather easily and the chances of finding patient zero in a place like Mexico is going to be near impossible, makes this appear to be something that is more than 'nervous hand wringing by the talking heads'

  • by Just Some Guy ( 3352 ) <kirk+slashdot@strauser.com> on Sunday April 26, 2009 @04:35PM (#27723455) Homepage Journal

    Mexico hovers on martial law and the US declares emergency. Government responses will be increasingly strong before they admit the truth of the zombie uprising.

    Swine flu, my butt. It's the Solanum virus and we won't know until it's too late to contain.

  • by ColdWetDog ( 752185 ) on Sunday April 26, 2009 @04:35PM (#27723461) Homepage
    Sounds like the one thing you didn't do was to loosen the tin-foil hat a bit. You know, sometimes, Shit Happens. It's not always an Illuminati Conspiracy.

    And no, it's not "just the flu". It is a little early but it is looking eerily like the beginning of pandemic spread (late season, high mortality rate among generally healthy, H1N1). It may not be much, but the easiest, safest, cheapest method of dealing with it is rapid isolation. Like closing borders.

    It may well be jumping the gun a bit, but since we are not likely to get good quality epidemiological information for weeks to months, it makes sense to potentially overreact.

    Work on your tin-foil breathing mask while you have time. You can paint it black and look like Darth Vader!
  • by Sycraft-fu ( 314770 ) on Sunday April 26, 2009 @04:37PM (#27723471)

    Do all the normal prudent things like wash your hands plenty, try not to stand next to the guy coughing up a lung, etc. Keep up on the situation on the CDC's website, not on random places like Slashdot. The reason is that the Internet has a LOT of doomsdayers, if you haven't noticed. They are always after the next thing that's going to fuck us over. The one I remember most recently was when there were stories of cable cuts in mid east, doomsdayers said this meant the US was going to invade Iran in a couple days, Bush would declare marshal law, and the election would be suspended. Ya well, we all see how much of that happened.

    So get your info from a reliable source. The CDC is interested in keeping people safe and stopping the spread of this (and all other) disease. They are also staffed with experts. People on random forums often have no idea what the fuck they are talking about, like to blow things up, and predict the end of the world every other month.

    Only thing special to do maybe is make sure you've got flu food. By that I mean things like chicken noodle soup and such. If you get sick you probably aren't going to feel like shopping (and shouldn't go shopping since you don't want to spread your sickness) and you also aren't likely to feel like eating pizza and such.

  • by Animaether ( 411575 ) on Sunday April 26, 2009 @04:38PM (#27723485) Journal

    Just to note... declaring a 'Public Health Emergency' sounds all kinds of doom&gloom-y, but doing so simply enables measures to be taken more quickly, more easily, etc.

    "We are declaring today a public health emergency," Secretary of Homeland Security Janet Napolitano said today at a White House news briefing. That declaration is "standard operating procedure," Napolitano said. "It is similar to what we do when we see a hurricane approaching a site. The hurricane might not actually hit but allows you to take a number of preparatory steps. We really don't know ultimately what the size or seriousness of this outbreak is going to be." - webmd.com

    It's when the CDC starts issuing emergencies, quarantining local communities, ordering a halt to any and all traffic into / out of certain areas, etc. that you should start raising eyebrows.

  • Re:Google FluTrend (Score:3, Insightful)

    by WindBourne ( 631190 ) on Sunday April 26, 2009 @04:40PM (#27723503) Journal
    At this time, it is low. OTH, if the current vaccine does not work against it, then we are likely to see that trend change. And most likely this week.
  • Re:Yawn (Score:3, Insightful)

    by 0123456 ( 636235 ) on Sunday April 26, 2009 @04:44PM (#27723533)

    "And if 80+ dead in 1000+ cases worldwide so far(and they are mostly healthy and young) are not more than 'nervous hand wringing' to you, then you are a fool."

    Except, um, no-one knows how many people caught this flu and had no serious problems, just like the majority of people infected outside Mexico. For all we know a million people caught it, a thousand became seriously sick and eighty died.

    American experience seems to show that only a small fraction of people are seriously sick, and Mexican experience seems to show that a small fraction of the seriously sick die. Trying to extrapolate those figures into Doomsday scenarios is silly at this point.

  • by ColdWetDog ( 752185 ) on Sunday April 26, 2009 @04:46PM (#27723555) Homepage

    Does food irradiation kill viruses? If so, does anyone here know the names of any companies that produce food irradiators?

    Umm, why are you asking? Are you planning on irridiating every one you might come in contact with? This is a respiratory virus - droplet transmission. Unless you're some sort of closet cannibal, I can't see why you are interested...

    On second throught don't reply. I'm pretty sure I don't want to know....

  • Re:Yawn (Score:2, Insightful)

    by Starvingboy ( 964130 ) on Sunday April 26, 2009 @05:09PM (#27723705)
    Sorry, I'm just not that worried about it. Perhaps I'm just oversaturated with TV News disasters that never actually effect midwest USA. You can assume this is the 1918 flue-redu and hide in your basement if you like. Myself, I'm going to go to work tomorrow like normal. The fact that it's spreading rapidly in Mexico city, which is known for poor sanitation and overcrowding does not surprise me. So far the reported survival rate looks decent, I'll take my chances. It's still a bit early to seal up the bomb shelter in my opinion.
  • by Darkness404 ( 1287218 ) on Sunday April 26, 2009 @05:14PM (#27723745)
    Um, honestly the earth isn't overpopulated in the least and can easily handle a few billion more. Then there is declining birthrates in most of the developed world, so a pandemic really isn't necessary to cut down on the population of the world.
  • by IHC Navistar ( 967161 ) on Sunday April 26, 2009 @05:23PM (#27723821)

    Maybe if we didn't completely sterilize every conceivable surface in out packing houses and restaurants, sterilize foods in radiation and chemicals, and push people to drench their houses in Lysol every time somebody coughed, we either wouldn't have this problem, or it wouldn't be as bad as it is.

    The problem today is that sanitization and sterilization of our restaurants and homes is that we are now exposed to FAR FEWER germs than in the past. When we kill germs with powerful disinfectants, we eliminate the chances of allowing our immune system to strengthen itself. I see commercials for cleaners that kiil 99.9% of bacteria, commercials for disinfectants aimed at parents using children as an excuse for sanitizing everything they touch so they don't get a cold.

    The more we continue to push for stricter standards, and the increased sanitization of our homes, workplaces, and restaurants, the weaker our immune systems will get, and the more deadly previously harmless germs will become.


    All I can say is "I told you so.".

  • by Ken_g6 ( 775014 ) on Sunday April 26, 2009 @05:32PM (#27723877) Homepage

    This flu kills healthy people by causing fluid buildup in the lungs.

    So, yes, quit smoking!

  • absolutely (Score:5, Insightful)

    the flu can still spread in warm climates, flu in fact is a regular feature of the tropics. but in warm weather you will see more close contact cases, cases among families, cases among office workers cube-to-cube. long term close contact being needed in the warmth. not random walking-by-on-the-sidewalk transmission, like you will get with cold weather

    the whole point is not that the summer months will destroy or prevent the swine flu. the problem is it will still spread, but at a lower background noise rate. seeping all around in tiny little clusters

    then the weather gets cold, and the flu will suddenly leap out of all of these tiny below the radar clusters, and expand exponentially in a matter of days, and suddenly be everywhere at the same time, with falling temperatures

    seriously, worry come october for us in the northern mid-latitudes

    or, alternately, if you are in the far north (in a populated area, rare), or in the soutern hemisphere as your winter approaches, worry now

  • by Nyeerrmm ( 940927 ) on Sunday April 26, 2009 @05:50PM (#27723989)

    We don't really know the carrying capacity of the Earth, and at any rate allowing billions to die isn't a valid solution by any reasonable moral standard.

    Continued growth with the current trends is the real problem, but even then there are much more humane solutions than allowing the horrors of history to continue to work their course. Raising the level of development in a region tends to cause a decrease in the birthrate, so much so that Europe is having the opposite problem, so continued efforts to develop poorer states (and, coincidentally, mitigate these kinds of pandemics) is the best way to keep populations under control.

  • by SnowZero ( 92219 ) on Sunday April 26, 2009 @05:53PM (#27724021)

    Good point; I should have added "If your employer has a halfway decent policy, ...". In tech fields, most employers do have a reasonable policy; however in many service fields, the written or unwritten policies are not nearly as accommodating.

    For any employers out there, make sure sick people can stay home, since it is better to lose their (partial) productivity for day, rather than to make the whole office sick.

  • by John Hasler ( 414242 ) on Sunday April 26, 2009 @06:15PM (#27724189) Homepage

    > Maybe if we didn't completely sterilize every conceivable surface in out packing houses
    > and restaurants, sterilize foods in radiation and chemicals, and push people to drench
    > their houses in Lysol every time somebody coughed, we either wouldn't have this problem,
    > or it wouldn't be as bad as it is.

    "We" didn't do all that in 1918. 50 million people died. Hygiene is primarily responsible for the drastic reduction in infectious disease in the last 100 years.

  • by Anonymous Coward on Sunday April 26, 2009 @06:17PM (#27724205)

    Sorry, 20 confirmed fatalities out of ~1,000 known cases is not enough for me to start panicking. Call me when the mortality rate reaches double digits. And there are things we don't know. First, how old were the people who died? Second, what was their general state of health? If they were all over 60 and already sick with something else, chances are this bug is no worse than any other strain of the flu. And let's not forget - there are over 20,000,000 people in Mexico DF, and so far only 1,000 cases of this new bug have been reported there and far, far fewer than that in the US. Colour me unimpressed.

    It seems like we go through this every year or two. A "new" version of the flu (and they're ALL new; if the bug never changed you'd get sick once and then your body's antibodies would wipe it out every time and you'd never get sick again) shows up and people start to panic and then nothing happens. A few people get sick, a few old or immune-compromised people die and the general population goes about its business.

    I'd like to think we could learn to control our impulse to panic, but I know it's nearly impossible with the media feeding our collective paranoia. Still, I'd like to share some advice I got from a very friendly-looking book one time: Don't Panic. Please?

  • by MichaelSmith ( 789609 ) on Sunday April 26, 2009 @07:43PM (#27724797) Homepage Journal

    Is 7% a "high" death rate?

    Wikipedia has normal flu mortality at 0.1%.

    Which is pretty much the number of people who are always within a few months of death because of age and/or illness.

  • Re:Actually... (Score:3, Insightful)

    by denzacar ( 181829 ) on Sunday April 26, 2009 @08:55PM (#27725253) Journal

    IANAV (I am not a virologist) but...

    As at least 15 out of 20 [yahoo.com] confirmed swine flu deaths were reported in Mexico City my guess is that is primarily due to population concentration and the lack of proper health care.
    When you put 6000 people per square kilometer at one place you will probably have problems with epidemics and with providing proper and timely health care.
    Add to that the fact US has about 4 times the per capita GDP of Mexico and about 13-14 times bigger GDP in total - my guess is that that should at least indicate the potential reason for the higher fatality in Mexico.

  • "We" didn't do all that in 1918. 50 million people died. Hygiene is primarily responsible for the drastic reduction in infectious disease in the last 100 years.

    IMO the middle ground is best. Except in some environments (hospitals, etc), I don't think one should go out of one's way to sanitize every conceivable surface. Washing hands is good. Spraying the telephone with lysol is paranoia and counterproductive, despite what the ads on TV say.

    Also there is a growing body of evidence that kids who grow up in less sterile environments (farms, etc) grow faster and have fewer illnesses as adults than those who grow up in more sterile environments. Some of these involve experiments with raising animals in sterile environments.

  • Re:Define Irony (Score:4, Insightful)

    by scubamage ( 727538 ) on Sunday April 26, 2009 @10:12PM (#27725675)
    Um, no. Irony is when the opposite of the expected happens. Or an incongruency between the actual and expected result. That's just a funny cooincidence. Sorry to be a PITA :(
  • by Qzukk ( 229616 ) on Sunday April 26, 2009 @10:40PM (#27725823) Journal

    Which is pretty much the number of people who are always within a few months of death because of age and/or illness.

    Which is the difference between the "normal" flu, which kills infants and old people, and any of the historical "pandemic" flus, which killed young and middle-aged adults.

  • by TapeCutter ( 624760 ) * on Sunday April 26, 2009 @10:51PM (#27725885) Journal
    "If you are a religious person than I can understand your position. If you are not then I wonder how you arrived at it. I don't know where you are coming from here, but I do wonder about the large number of people in the West who renounce or ignore religious faith and yet still have this sense of moral certainty and who freely make moral judgement of one and all."

    Religion was invented to explain and exploit our existing "morals". "Thou shall not kill" did not come from God it came from a man who was expressing what billions of years of evolution has made him think. Sure you can attempt to rationalise these inate morals away but if you manage to that then you will probably be classified as a phycopath or at the very least a sociopath.
  • by Jared555 ( 874152 ) on Sunday April 26, 2009 @11:27PM (#27726049)

    How about a couple hundred gold bars and a gun arsenal? (Of course if I had that available I would be in an underground bunker somewhere typing this)

  • by dr_strang ( 32799 ) on Sunday April 26, 2009 @11:40PM (#27726131)

    not with a bang, but with a whimper.

  • by True Grit ( 739797 ) * <edwcogburn&gmail,com> on Monday April 27, 2009 @07:23AM (#27728167)

    That's interesting. So your statement preemptively declares all opposing positions as being "unreasonable".

    If the only opposing position we're talking about is deliberately standing by and allowing millions of people to die from a relatively easily preventable cause, then yes, I don't have a problem with preemptively calling that immoral.

    Why is death by disease immoral?

    Its not, but a large number of deaths by an easily prevented disease is (or should be).

    Why is not making extraordinary efforts to treat the diseases of others immoral?

    This entirely depends on how we define "extraordinary".

    By who's standard other than yours?

    If enough people agree with it, then it doesn't *matter* who originated the "standard". Why did you even bother to ask this? You know darn well the GP's attitude is, in general, held by a lot of people. If this attitude wasn't widespread, the world wouldn't have nearly as many aid organizations as it does (Red Cross, CARE, Doctors Without Borders, et cetera ad nauseum).

    If you are a religious person

    I'm not religious, I'm just a rather ordinary member of that very social species we call "homo sapiens", who, when he sees or hears of another member of the same species dying a pointless death, has the guts to think of more than just himself and ask himself the question "What if that was me?".

    You don't need "religion" to see the GP's point of view, you just have to have the ability to "put yourself in someone else's shoes", so to speak.

    Of course, I'm also a realist, and I know that despite my opinion, "immoral" behavior such as standing by while others are lost to easily preventable deaths will continue, for all sorts of reasons, with, I suspect, the main reason being that for every person who asks themselves the question "What if that was me?" in the above situation, there is at least one other person who doesn't think about anything beyond their initial reaction of "Whew! Glad that wasn't me!". Well, no one has ever accused humanity of being homogeneous. :)

  • by Anonymous Coward on Monday April 27, 2009 @07:45AM (#27728261)

    That's good news for the producers of Tamiflu who love having this in the news, and for their shareholders who saw their stock skyrocket as a result. It's pretty special that there's tons of people out there just waiting around to make money off of this kind of thing.

    Please think this through a little bit. If they didn't stand to make a bundle of money off of it, I really doubt they would have bothered developing it...

    There are other options, like government-sponsored "prizes" for this sort of development, but they're far less efficient than a market-based approach.

"Only a brain-damaged operating system would support task switching and not make the simple next step of supporting multitasking." -- George McFry