The World Health Organization (WHO) convenes in Geneva today to discuss swine flu, a form of potentially lethal influenza, that first emerged in Mexico. Already, the WHO has announced that the world is close to a flu pandemic, the first in more than four decades, and has put the world on alert 4 (highest alert being 6). WHO says it is already too late to contain the outbreak.
Swine flu may have killed more than 100 people in Mexico and infected thousands. However, it is not known for certain precisely how many of those 100 or so individuals actually died from the virus, a secondary infection, or some other cause. This makes determining the lethality rate very difficult and estimates range from 1% to 6.5%. The Spanish flu that killed 18 million people in 1918 had a lethality rate of 2.5%.
The WHO has put the world on a level 4 alert and its prognosis is that we will not be able to contain the outbreak and are almost certainly facing a flu pandemic. However, the cases of H1N1 swine flu seen outside Mexico seem to be less virulent than the Mexican cases. People in the USA, Spain, New Zealand, and elsewhere are showing only mild symptoms and recovering well. Indeed, most of the people in Mexico infected with swine flu are recovering too. A Scottish couple who returned to the UK having shown mild symptoms of the disease were hospitalized but are doing well.
The UK government has announced it has stockpiles of the antiviral agent Tamiflu (oseltamivir) adequate to treat around one half of the UK population. However, as I have discussed previously, new viruses are emerging from latent hosts continuously. If swine flu is not the arrival of the long-overdue pandemic killer many people have been anticipating for decades, then maybe we should avoid using up such stocks. The next virus, whether from pig or poultry, may be much more virulent and need all the weapons we can aim at it to control.
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Keywords: swine flu, flu symptoms, swine flu blog, swine flu mortality