Thursday, April 30, 2009

Vol. 2: Swine flu: outright lies, hyperbole and grains of salt

As the real swine (H1N1) flu spreads across the world, the nuttiness of some reports and reactions continues.

The United Arab Emirates just joined a few other nations in banning pork sales. The problem with this: You don't get flu from pork—if you get it, you're most likely to get it from another human.

“It is not pork-borne,” said U.S. Homeland Security Secretary Janet Napolitano.

Conspiracy theorists are spinning all kinds of unnecessary silliness, from assertions about dead pigs in China (problem: there aren't yet any confirmed H1N1 flu cases in China) to Al Qaeda involvement. In fact, swine flu has moved to humans before, and it doesn't require a conspiracy.

The Associated Press has reported nearly 150 dead of swine flu in Mexico alone, 20 of them confirmed. Meanwhile, in a more recent report, the World Health Organization says there are 8 confirmed deaths--7 in Mexico and the eighth a Mexican child being treated in an American hospital. What's going on? The WHO actually requires proof--the person who died must actually have had the H1N1 strain of flu. Other organizations and nations are not such nitpickers. Another reason to be careful with where you get your information.

News reports have suggested that Mexican officials have identified “patient zero”--the first human who got sick with this flu. Dr. Rich Besser, acting director of the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, says the first victim has in fact NOT yet been identified.

When you hear frightening numbers about how many people are at risk, keep in mind, as Health and Human Services Secretary Kathleen Sebelius said in a briefing today, that the regular annual flu season in this country makes hundreds of thousands of people sick and can result in 36,000 deaths.

The nation has a stockpile of 50 million antiviral medication doses, states have another 20 million or so, and the military has millions more. Hawai'i has enough on hand to treat 25 percent of its population. The primary compounds are Tamiflu (oseltamivir) and Relenza (zanamivir). This medication helps reduce symptoms.

If a person with H1N1 does sneeze on a hand and the touch something, how long can the virus live and remain infective outside the body?

The Mayo Clinic ( reports that they can live as long as two days on surfaces. To protect yourself, you could wipe down with alcohol surfaces like computer keyboards that may have been touched by someone sick, said Dr. Rich Besser, acting director of the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Frequent handwashing or the use of alcohol gels continues to be a strong recommendation.

This flu virus is still new, and is not a revival of a previous flu virus. “This strain is very different from any previous strain that we've seen,” Besser said.

Its characteristics will be slightly different from the average, but generally, figure that there's about a seven-day incubation period—the period between infection and symptoms showing up. And symptoms can hang around for a few days to a week.

There are still a lot of questions about the characteristics of this particular virus, and about how it will move through the world's populations.

“This is a dynamic situation. It will change,” Sibelius said.

Places to get good information: and

Our previous post on this issue:

© Jan TenBruggencate 2009

1 comment:

Rebeca said...

On Monday morning an Arkia airlines plane took off from Ben Gurion Airport carrying rabbis and kabbalists and flew over the country in a flight aimed at preventing the swine flu virus from spreading in Israel through prayers.