Saturday, April 25, 2009

Swine Flu: It's Not a Crime, but It Is a Threat

The mere mention of swine flu gives me a twinge of fear: two young members of my family died of this disease during a global pandemic that started in 1918 and continued in deadly waves around the globe. One was a child of 11; another a young mother of five. The effect of these losses on their loved ones carried down through generations.

In the U.S. between the autumn of 1918 and the spring of 1919, more than half a million died of swine flu; even more died in Western Europe, and the disease claimed tens of millions of lives worldwide, with some estimates exceeding 50 million. Eight out of every ten people who contracted swine flu died.

Now there's a new strain on the loose, and it has claimed up to 60 lives in Mexico. This version of swine flu is bad, but, so far, it does not seem to be as serious as its predecessor; some common modern antiviral medications work against it. Eight people in Texas and California are known to have contracted the disease, but their symptoms were mild and they have all recovered. In Mexico, though, some 900-1,000 people have contracted this new strain of flu; Mexican authorities have tried to limit its spread by advising healthy people to avoid crowds, advising sick people to stay home, and by closing schools, libraries, and museums. (For a more scientific view from a public health standpoint, look here.)

Health authorities from both sides of the border have teamed up to report that public health risks for Americans living near the Mexican border are greater than elsewhere in the U.S.:
Analysis of data from the U.S. National Notifiable Diseases Surveillance System for 1990 through 1998 showed increased risks for certain foodborne, waterborne, and vaccine-preventable diseases in U.S. counties within 100 kilometers of the border, compared with nonborder states. These data show a two- to fourfold greater incidence of hepatitis A, measles, rubella, shigellosis, and rabies and an eightfold greater incidence of brucellosis in border counties than in nonborder states. Studies have identified the importance of cross-border movement in the transmission of various diseases, including hepatitis A, tuberculosis, shigellosis, syphilis, Mycobacterium bovis infection, and brucellosis. [See original for citations.]

It certainly is difficult enough to control the spread of disease when people are trying to do so, but the task becomes incalculably more difficult when a high-risk population is exempted from disease control. This exempted population, of course, is the population permitted to immigrate into the U.S. without medical screening.

Homeland Security Secretary Janet Napolitano told CNN that illegal immigration is not a crime even though U.S. law (read it here) establishes punishments for unauthorized immigration of up to 6 months of imprisonment for the first (misdemeanor) offense and up to 2 years for the second (felony) offense. Even if unauthorized entry into the U.S. were not a crime, it would still be a threat to American security, if for no other reason than the danger posed by microscopic hitchhikers like Mycobacterium bovis and H1N1 swine flu virus.

Of course, as we all know, those sneaky little devils could be riding in on the coat tails of hard-working terrorists.

Cinco de Mayo is fast approaching. Will this year's advocates for a porous southern border be wearing medical masks?

Update 1: The Mexican swine flu outbreak may have moved to New York City:

The New York City health department dispatched a team of investigators to a private school in Queens on Friday after dozens of students complained of symptoms that officials believed were consistent with a strain of swine flu that has swept Mexico City.

The agency said about 75 students at St. Francis Preparatory School had complained Thursday of nausea, fever, dizziness and aches and pains. Several of the students were said to have recently traveled to Mexico, where as many as 61 people have died and possibly hundreds more have been infected in an outbreak of swine flu in recent weeks.

Update 2: Spokesperson Dr. Anne Schuchat of the Center for Disease Control announced that "It is clear that this is widespread. And that is why we have let you know that we cannot contain the spread of this virus."

Update 3: Two swine flu cases confirmed in Kansas; eight probable in New York City. h/t Michelle Malkin

3 comments:

  1. My understanding was that the flu viruses transmitted best in temperatures around 40 degrees F. Mexico City can't be that cold around this time of the year... Would the spread have been worse in the winter, or is this a different type of virus, or am I just wrong about the virus transmission tempertures?

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  2. Hadn't thought of that, Yukio. I found a couple of studies that indicate that higher temperatures block aerosol transmission, but not contact transmission. Here they are: http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/17953482

    It looks like we are mighty lucky, at least initially, that this novel virus is showing up as temperatures warm up.

    I am hearing confirmations that this version of swine flu, like its predecessors, has its worst effects on young people because they have strong immune systems. Apparently, the stronger the immune reaction, the greater the production of mucous to wash away the infection, leading to fatal pneumonia.

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  3. Seroflo 500 Multihaler is antibacterial medicine. is a combination of two medicines: Salmeterol and Fluticasone Propionate. Salmeterol is a long-acting bronchodilator which works by relaxing the muscles in the airways and widens the airways. Fluticasone Propionate is a steroid. Tablet exactly as advised by your doctor and ask your doctor if you have any doubts.

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