Yeninko of the Umlaut

Thursday, April 30, 2009

The Global Pandemic of 2009

I've just got back from Cuba and will be writing a few longer post but I wanted to say a couple things briefly.

First, the book I brought to read on the trip was the inauspiciously named The Great Influenza: The Epic Story of the Deadliest Plague in History about the 1918-1919 influenza pandemic. A couple of things to note. Flu is just short for inFLUenza. Influenza exists endemically as a reservoir in birds. It likely will never be eradicated as it doesn't need a human host to survive. Influenza also exist and spreads in pigs. And the influenza in pigs, birds and humans can and does move from one group to another. The current outbreak is called Swine flu because at some indeterminable point in this strain's past, it passed through pigs (that could have been a month ago or years ago and largely is irrelevant) but it is still influenza, this strain is clearly is new to humans, it currently looks like we don't have any immunity to it and it passes from human to human. While it's current virulence is unknown one virologist notes in The Great Influenza, that "influenza is so infectious that he calls it 'a special instance' among infectious diseases, 'transmitted so effectively that it exhausts the supply of susceptible host'". Added to all of this is the fact we have our normal cyclical flu season coming late this year. Odds are one way or another, a lot of us are going to be using sick days.

Lastly, having just come back from Cuba (where no one knew about the out break including us) via Mexico City I was shocked to see this in the news today: "Cuba announced a 48-hour ban on flights to and from Mexico, except in "exceptional cases." The last flight from Mexico touched down in Havana around 4 p.m., then returned to Mexico City with passengers before the two-day suspension officially began." Lucky timing.

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