Flu Season

Thursday, September 10, 2009

The flu is on my mind after Mrs. Van Horn reminded me yesterday that immunization time is nigh and, so, of course, I wondered about the swine flu pandemic.

Hadley Leggett of Wired Science reported about a month ago that history indicated that the flu would probably not turn out to be as bad as many had feared.

[T]wo infectious disease experts from the National Institutes of Health question the idea that severe pandemics are usually preceded by a milder wave of disease. After analyzing 15 pandemics from the last 500 years, including the catastrophic influenza pandemic of 1918, they say the pattern doesn't hold up.
And yesterday, Sandy Szwarc of Junkfood Science took a look at how actual numbers compared to projections in Australia, which is near the end of its flu season.
Three months ago, public health experts and even the President of the Australian Medical Association were warning that one-third of the population would get swine flu. As late as last month, the Australian government had ordered 21 million doses of swine flu vaccine, enough to vaccinate the entire population.

In reality, as of noon today, the Australian Department of Health and Ageing reports that Australia has had 35,775 confirmed cases of pandemic H1N1. The experts had overstated the numbers who would get sick by 203-fold. There have been 162 deaths -- a fraction (5.4%) of the 3,000 Australians who typically die from the seasonal flu each year.
Curious about whether the low numbers might be attributable in any way to a vaccination program, I found only reports, dated August 20, that Australia might start vaccinations some time this month. Szwarc goes on to note that the flu has not only been less virulent than feared, but has produced a relatively mild illness, quoting an infectious disease expert as saying, "If we have to have influenza, I would clearly choose novel H1N1."

So far, the worst fears have failed to materialize. That's good to hear, but I will likely take the second vaccine anyway. If the vaccine proves to be safe, why get sick at all?

-- CAV


: Despite that news, it's not quite time to exhale: Via Glenn Reynolds, it appears that members of certain ethnicities (e.g., "young Canadian aboriginals") may get hit really hard.


Mike said...

It appears there was an H1N1 outbreak at the PAX gaming convention over the weekend. I knew from experience that gamer nerds had a notable contingent that, due to utter lack of hygiene, served as an ideal catalyst for the spread of infectious diseases. Still, this news came off as surreal, even though it was so obvious.

This is one of the reasons we can't have nice things.

Gus Van Horn said...

I guess being in close quarters with someone like that would nix the advantage of washing one's hands often.


Jim May said...

One of our guys here was at the PAX conference (I'm now working in games). Fortunately, he's pretty clean-cut, as are most of us here, and has shown no symptoms.

Washing of hands might not be enough, but I'm hoping that Vitamin D supplementation fits the bill there.

Gus Van Horn said...

Good luck, and thanks for reminding me about Vitamin D, now that I'm in the North.

Rational Education said...

Speaking of vitamin D -it is now tested for (it seems a recent addition to routine blood tests from what my physican said and also this is the first time by blood report came back with that info)and over 90% of the population has levels lot lower than the required range. I of course had a very low level and have started a prescription strength dosage. There is an over the counter available but will only help perhaps to maintain the required level. Living in the south does not apparently take care of vitamin D, and it is only the early morning sun anyway that helps, I think.
Does vitamin D help strengthen the immune system as well to improve the body's ability to combat H1N1? My physician did rattle off several health conditions that a deficiency of vitamin D brings on.

Gus Van Horn said...

I don't know whether it would help fight off H1N1 specifically, but it is known to be important for a properly functioning immune system, including, if I recall correctly, helping it know the difference between things it should attack and things it shouldn't.

Anonymous said...

The swine flu vaccine isn't even available yet. Those Australian figures were without vaccination for swine flu.

Gus Van Horn said...

Indeed. This is implied by the story at the link to the possible Australian vaccination program, but it does bear being made explicit. Thanks.