Amanda Ripley

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Swine Flu: The Sequel

9th Jul 2009 posted in Disaster Behavior

One of the most annoying features of a pandemic flu is that it is never officially over. And this one is just getting started. I spent the day submerged in the Flu Summit held at NIH, just outside of DC. I can think of more fun things to do, but it was a helpful primer on where things stand. So I have good news and bad.

Good news: So far, this flu seems pretty stable in the southern hemisphere. It doesn’t seem to be getting more virulent. Which means it probably won’t wipe out all of humanity—not now anyway. Woo hoo! Also, it means that we can cook up a vaccine before the flu goes changing on us.

Less major but still vaguely good news: Obama called in from Italy for a quick rah rah and sent 3 cabinet secretaries to represent. None of them said anything particularly memorable, but it is a sign that they are taking this seriously—despite all the other things they are taking seriously at this cluttered moment.

Bad news: H1N1 is everywhere and targeting the young. An estimated 1m Americans have been infected. Of the dead, the vast majority are under age 65. So even if H1N1 stays at its current, relatively low fatality rates, that could still mean thousands of dead or hospitalized children and adults in the months ahead.

Prognosis: Vaccine trials should start in August. If all goes well, vaccinations could begin mid-Oct. It seems likely the first phase of a vaccine will target kids, pregnant women, health care workers and people with “underlying conditions”—which is defined in this case to mean lots and lots of people (i.e. people with asthma, diabetes, obesity, etc.) But there are still hundreds of things no one yet knows: like how much vaccine people will need, how it will be distributed, and when.

Bottom line: Influenza is notoriously unpredictable, so everything will depend on government types (states and locals especially) and the public adapting quickly. To stay in fighting shape, I’d go here, here  and here on a regular basis. Not very satisfying, as far as bottom lines go… OK, I’ll try again: I’m getting the feeling that schools will be Ground Zero—the epicenter of infection, disruption, mitigation and vaccine delivery. Prepare to hear a LOT about schools… and given the way American schools are run, prepare for some places to work miracles and other places to stink it up in a major way.