Swine Flu: what the epidemiologist said


Tonight we had an epidemiologist and his wife and their kids over for dinner. The epidemiologist had to sit out on our porch for the beginning of dinner because of a conference call with other public-health officials throughout the Bay Area. And he was on another long call with officials statewide earlier today.

So the swine flu was the main thrust of our dinner discussion. And it looks bad.

From the epidemiologist I get the impression that officials were caught a little offguard by this flu. And that can't be good.

Here's the thing: any flu bug that jumps over from another species into humans and then begins transferring human-to-human is a pandemic in the making. And you don't have to be an epidemiologist to see that the human-to-human thing has totally started. It's rather obvious. But it's not the Scary Avian Flu so we're okay, right?

No. Not at all.

But we were expecting the pandemic to start in Asia, not Mexico. So, uh, what shall we do? It was supposed to come from birds, not pigs. So, uh, what shall we do?

Had half as many people been diagnosed with avian flu in California as have already been diagnosed with swine flu, the procedure was to shut down all schools, minimize all travel, discourage people from getting into groups. California would be as quiet as Mexico City is tonight.

But this started in pigs. And it appeared in Mexico! This wasn't what we expected!

So let's hold off.

The epidemiologist told us that by tomorrow they should have tested enough people in the state to know how to proceed. He suspects the only options are total lockdown or the good news that it's already on its way out.

But swine flu is killing the youngest and healthiest first. Sort of like the Spanish Flu did. This doesn't really look like frontpage news for Mexico City only.

So if you're feeling sick, stay home tomorrow. If you're running to the store tonight for ice cream, get all your groceries while you're there. Of course we all hope nothing happens.

But what if this is the virus we've all been waiting for?

Let's be safe.


  1. .

    Incidentally, I'm wondering if the delay in official reaction is concern that a major pandemic and transportation lock down would really screw over our already screwed over economy and wouldn't that such? Which sounds exactly like the sort of decision one comes to regret later, doesn't it?

  2. So, like, I'm all packed and set to go to Mexico for the very first time ever in my whole life on Monday. I've never bothered to go because the whole "don't drink the water" thing had me a little spooked. I finally get over and make the plans to go and um, FREAKIN SWINE FLU?!?!?!?!?!? WTF? A somewhat large part of me hopes that they shut down travel so I don't have to go....

  3. .

    Would that get you a refund or something?

  4. No, I'm sure there is some fine print somewhere that says "the airline is not responsible for acts of nature and/or new strains of illness causing complete shutdown of whole countries"

    I did just go-a-searching on the internet to see where Cabo is in this, and at first I was like "oh, it hasn't jumped, I'm safe on that little penninsula" but then I saw that there are 8 likely cases in New York... that's a HUGE LEAP. Unless it's like the movie "Outbreak" where someone brought it home... right? right?

  5. .

    It's in SoCal and Texas too. And more locations apt to be announced tomorrow.

  6. This is a hot button topic for me.

    Since the severe brain injury my daughter suffered in utero was probably caused by a virus transferred to me from another human outside the family, and since viruses of any kind pose above-average risks to her (and other family members), we've been on to the virus threat since she was diagnosed 16 and 1/2 years ago. Also, in the last ward where I lived, I vt'd a woman with one lung and another with an immune system problem. Both devoted women feared to go to church because of the irresponsible behavior exhibited there where illness is concerned.

    Don't mean to sound like a know-it-all, but I've been saying for ten years that where illness is concerned, we will reach a point where our behavior will have to change. Like any number of other unsustainable behaviors we engage in, our public practice where diseases of this kind and other health hazards are concerned is oblivious and careless.

    This is a problem we've created for ourselves. Which is usually the case.

  7. Actually, I've been watching the updates about this in the CDC reports. It was interesting to have a real human blogger write about it.

  8. For Cricket: I just read tonight (not sure where) that airlines were still operating, but that they were allowing for people to change travel plans through Mexico. Call your airline.

  9. It's nice in theory, but actually making that call, telling work you 'aren't well' or similar and staying home with the door bolted is hard.

    We don't know and indeed chances are this won't be the big one. However when it comes, the gap between when we realise it is so, and when it is too late, will either be small or non existant. I suspect, but then again I hate to be a pessimist...

  10. Won't that be fun when you can log onto the CDC website and see a live counter counting the number of deaths due to the swine flu? Kinda like logging onto websites and watching the national debt grow before your eyes.

  11. .

    You're right A Esq: we;re likely to wait to long.

    We're doing Vitally Important State Tests at my high school the next two weeks. The State puts so much pressure on us that we encourage even the sick to come to school on these days. Which is not necessarily the best policy anyway, but at the edge of a (possible) pandemic, might seem, in retrospect, as suicidal. I did the math walking to school today and if the numbers my epidemiologist friend stated actually occur, 24 students at Little Hill High will die.

  12. Remember, wash your hands, wash your hands, wash your hands!

    Don't touch your eyes, nose or mouth (and I'd add ears, too...), and keep sanitizer with you.

    From what I understand it's not spread by the air, but by spray from sneezes and coughs, so masks won't hurt if you're out in public -- just pretend you're like the Chinese.

    And above all, don't panic--because that won't help anyone either.

    That's my POV on the subject. But, yes, I'm worried, too.

    And if it's behaving like the Spanish Flu of 1918 -- they've got newer tricks in their bag, since they've decided it was most likely the Cytokine storm that was the killer and why it affected the young and healthy.

    Hopefully now that it's diagnosed it will be taken better in hand -- and after all, it was Mexico, so deaths are more expected, and we've only had one hospitalized so far, and that was minor.

    Yes I know -- it's hoping when it could be grim -- but I can't live with that kind of fear.

  13. .

    My epidemiologist friend, coincidentally, give a presentation last week on the Spanish Flu. Takeaway: cities who started restricting intercourse soonest had the fewest casualties.

  14. Theric, I don't think our city will go for that.

    Can I put my family on record as not having missed church this week due to flu-like reasons. Just in case our absence was conspicuous. never fear, it's just that we were... umm... traveling. flying. is that better? :)

  15. .

    As long as it wasn't from Mexico.


  16. Wasn't there a swine flu outbreak in 1976? Didn't the congress actually vote on it and start a program to inoculate the population? Didn't the swine flu kill 1 and the inoculations kill 25 or something like that? I think they ended up suspending the program because they were killing people and the swine flu had gone away anyway...

  17. Er, a, wait, may be this isn't swine flu after all...http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=GBeKB7aKzOs

  18. .

    The '76 vaccine nearly killed our grandpa, actually.

    I can't watch YouTube at work, but I'm guessing it's about how the bug is a mix of three continents of pig, as well as bird and human? The human part isn't surprising: a pig handler sick with the flu catches swine flu and the two viruses mutate together. Voila--swine flue that passes from human to human. Even the bird part doesn't seem incredible.

    What I find weird is the three continents of pig. Sort of kicks the conspiracy-theory genes into expression mode, don't it?

  19. Yea, but we don't have to worry, Pinky will screw it all up and the Brain will have to find another way to rule the world.

  20. Get a shot of protection, a swine flu shot. Check out these public service announcements from 1976:


  21. .

    Intense! I love the second one in particular. It's funny how much they look like the old Homefront ads....