An elementary student in Wolfville has been diagnosed with flu H1N1 [what they used to call swine flu]. It was hard to tell whether this news affected people’s movements in town here as it rained most of the day which might have also affected the number of people out and about. There seems to be a lot of talk about the flu risk though, and to add to the “conversation” we thought these bits of information, from a scientist studying infectious diseases, might be of interest.
The media focus, with few exceptions, has been on the spread of the disease and its potential impact, and much of what makes swine flu and the pandemic so fascinating has been largely ignored.
Thus, in an effort to improve public perception of influenza A/H1N1, I’d like to present Three Fascinating and Scientific Things You Probably Didn’t Know About the Pig Flu.
1. The movement of money is helping to predict the spread of pig flu. ..a group at Northwestern University has modeled H1N1’s spread using data gathered from tracking currency. By using data from the wheresgeorge.com bill tracker, they developed a description of human traffic … and have used that in their pig flu projections. …
You will doubtless be happy to know that even if we sat back and did nothing, by month’s end the U.S. would still only have registered about 2,000 cases of H1N1, about the same number of cases of Beaver Fever they expect to see.[emph ours]
So that’s good news.
2. This is the first “open-source” outbreak. In early 2003 when SARS broke out, there was a three-week gap between when the virus responsible for it was identified and when its genome was sequenced and made available to researchers. Since then, genome sequencing technology has improved to the point where only three days after the first WHO report of H1N1, 40 viral genome sequences had been completed and released.As of today, over 180 complete H1N1 genome sequences from the current outbreak have been made available. With all of this data, many types of evolutionary analyses are now possible. .. By using the open-source genome sequence data, they’ve estimated that the pig flu virus first appeared in September, 2008, and have been able to calculate a statistic that indicates that at the moment, H1N1 isn’t spreading very efficiently – only enough to keep itself going at current infection levels.[emph ours]
So that’s good news.
3. Why the flu is more fatal in Mexico is un gran misterio. To date, there have been 26 confirmed cases where people have succumbed to swine flu, 25 of whom were in Mexico and one of whom was a Mexican who had crossed the border into the U.S. Why haven’t any of the other cases been fatal? That remains one of the most fascinating aspects of the outbreak.
The explanation that jumps to the forefront of most peoples’ minds is that the Mexican strains must be more virulent than those seen globally. While this is, of course, a possibility, the open-source evolutionary analyses indicate the available Mexican strains aren’t too far removed genetically from isolates found in Auckland, New York and Ohio.
Some researchers suspect that pre-existing health factors in the Mexican population might have influenced the disease’s outcome, while one leading theory suggests that the increased mortality has to do with the Mexican patients’ delays in seeing a physician.[author’s link]
There has only been one other death in the US so far and none yet in Canada. So that’s good news. And she concludes —
…all indications so far suggest that there’s no need for panic. It is, nevertheless, an important reminder that pandemic influenza is a very real threat, with new viruses appearing on a regular basis.
For now, though, just relax, cover your mouth when you cough, and keep washing your hands. And cook yourself up a nice B.L.T. – pigs need all the good press they can right now. [ww’s link]
We think that’s pretty good advice.