Swine Flu: 1976 vs. Today

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Flu needleThe current swine flu panic is actually not the first. Back in 1976, a 19-year-old soldier, Pvt. David Lewis, was killed by an influenza at Fort Dix. This particular strain had not been seen since the plague of 1918-19, which was responsible for half a million lives in the United States and 20 million worldwide. In a combination of panic (scary news coverage of the deadly swine flu), politics (President Ford’s desire to win office), and capitalism (pharmaceuticals wanting to cash in on vaccine profits), a decision was made to immunize all 220 million Americans. It turns out that this national inoculation ended up being responsible for more deaths than the swine flu itself.

Is a National Immunization More Dangerous Than the Swine Flu Itself?

The problem with the 1976 vaccine was that it triggered a number of neurological problems, including the rare Guillan-Barre syndrome. And it was later discovered that 500 other soldiers at Fort Dix had contracted swine flu and not gotten seriously ill from it. This begs the question – is it a good idea to rush a vaccine for the current swine flu to market before we can confirm how necessary the vaccine really is? Consider that several thousand people die from the ordinary flu each year. At the time of this writing, only a fraction of this amount have died from swine flu.

Will Swine Flu Become a Full-Fledged Pandemic?

The chair of the WFU pediatrics department is an international expert on the flu virus and has been appointed to a very select panel by the World Health Organization (WHO) to help deal with this potential crisis.

The swine flu, also known as the H1N1 virus (and recently referred to exclusively as this by Obama during his press conference), is likely to become a full fledged pandemic. What does that mean to the public? At this point, it is hard to tell. To the health care worker, it will be very busy. If the swine flu becomes a pandemic then it is estimated that 25-30% of the U.S. will become infected by the virus, the severity of which should not be much worse than what we see with the typical flu. There is a chance that the virus could mutate again and become more severe but thus far the U.S. cases are much less severe than the ones in Mexico. There will be casualties however.

Should I Take Tamiflu?

Only take Tamiflu if you are experiencing symptoms. You do not need to stockpile Tamiflu and taking it prophylactically will not help anything. In fact, it could lead to resistance to Tamiflu. But that is the good news. This strain is susceptible to Tamiflu but you need to be treated within the first 48 hrs of fever for it to be most effective. So, if you develop respiratory symptoms (runny nose, cough, sore throat) AND fever, then go see your doctor within 48 hrs of the start of the infection. The government has a huge stockpile of Tamiflu waiting to be distributed if a pandemic ensues.

Should I Cancel My Travel Plans?

There are no national travel warnings at this point but do not go to Mexico. Mexico is basically shut down right now anyway and as far as we know you can’t even get there by commercial plane. You do not need to wear a mask on a plane or take Tamiflu if you are getting on a plane.

Should I Stay Home from School?

You do not need to keep your kids out of school or daycare unless there has been a confirmed case at the school. The school should be shut down at that point anyway.

Should I Stay Home from Work?

If you get sick then do not go to work. Cough or sneeze into your sleeve and wash your hands frequently.

If you want official updates on the swine flu, visit the CDC website.

Alex loves nature and does his best to take care of the planet. He doesn't take for granted the serenity that can be found in the stillness of an ancient forest, or the majestic power of the ocean's large waves as they crash on an isolated island shoreline. He wants to raise awareness for how simple it can be to make a couple changes in your everyday life that can make a huge difference for the environment in the long term.

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Anonymous
10 Swine Flu Cases Confirmed In South Carolina

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention reported Thursday morning that the number of swine flu cases in the United States has topped 100, with confirmed infections in 11 states.

Anonymous
have never thought about it like that before. Thanks so much for the depth and understanding at which you covered the topic. it’s a useful piece of information not only for me but for many others. have read a lot on the topic at different blogs and books but this piece really gives food for thought.
Anonymous
Already out on the market, and the government keeps saying there will be enough for all. But again, after what happened in 1976, why would anyone want the vaccination? Considering that the flu is no more severe than your average flu, accepting the swine flu vaccine seems like an undue risk.

Those who forget history…will live to repeat it (can’t remember who said that).

Anonymous
What exactly is going on with the swine flu now? There was a media frenzy over it last year, reports of people getting it over the winter season, and then silence. Is swine flu still a concern? Did the vaccines work, were there any side effects, etc.? An update would be much appreciated.

Anonymous
Any update on the swine flu? Does it still exist or has it been wiped out?

Anonymous
Every so often, I hear about the swine flu on the news and I wonder if this is really still a threat. Isn’t there a cure, or if not, I would think that some groups of people would be more at risk than others. Like I often wonder if kids and the elderly are very much still at risk for this disease. When I talk to others, I realize that a lot of people have no real idea of what swine flu is. Is it the same as bird flu? I decided that it was important to read and learn more because if it keeps coming up in the news, then it might be a threat to people like kids, the elderly, babies and expecting mothers, so in order to keep the community safe, it can’t be some vague weird disease if it can actually hurt someone. When I researched swine flu, here is what I found.

Swine flu is a seasonal influenza virus of type A that infects the upper respiratory system of pigs. There are three variations of the virus that infect pigs in the US. Despite the relative prevalence of pigs becoming infected with the virus over the flu season, which lasts usually from October to March, humans only become infected with so-called ‘swine flu’ viruses very sporadically. When this sporadic infection of a swine influenza virus on a human occurs, it is due to a variant form of the viral coat that has allowed the virus through the human system. The majority of infections of humans with the swine flu virus occurs when humans are in close proximity to the pigs physically, such as on a farm.

When an outbreak occurs, however, it can be devastating to the human population. This is because humans have built up a natural immunity to many variants of human influenza viruses, so they are protected from being infected with the flu virus any subsequent time. Because the swine flu is a new virus type, no one will have an immunity, and therefore everyone who comes in contact with the virus has a much likelier chance of becoming sick with the Swine Flu.

The interesting news is that the Swine Flu seems to target healthy teens and adults, instead of children and the elderly, who comprise the usual at-risk populations for flu complication.

Anonymous
The immune system response is what causes the symptoms of flu, and contrary to popular belief is what causes flu-related mortality. As the flu experts point out, the virus will die too if the host dies, and therefore it is actually in a virus’s best interest to maintain the infection without killing the host. Naturally selecting more virulent forms also increases the likelihood that the virus will morph into a variant that can be passed person-to-person. With a compromised immune system, children and elderly people are unable to mount a sufficient immune response to Swine Flu, and therefore most of the viruses die or the infection plays out and the virus will not undergo natural selection. The result is an infection that plays out in the upper respiratory system with relatively few symptoms, with the virus dying off before sufficient numbers of contagious variants are passed on.

Healthy adults also by nature come into contact with many people over the course of a day, including other healthy adults. Combine this with the fact that many, if not most, healthy adults consider themselves infallible to diseases such as Swine Flu, and a recipe for a potential epidemic is born. The elderly as well as children, while more likely to be indoors with larger groups of people, are more likely to realize they are at-risk and take precautions, thus lessening their chances of becoming Swine Flu targets.

The best way you can combat the epidemic is to stay calm and not panic. Use caution in a group setting, such as washing your hands before eating and after using the restroom, and not sharing cups, utensils, chapstick, or other items with others that may transfer bodily fluids from person-to-person. Health care workers are adept at generating vaccines for the outbreaks as well. Getting a flu shot each year will give you a leg up on immunity from flu variants in general, and may help you ward off infection.

When Swine Flu breaks out among humans, the first step is quarantine for those who are or may be infected. If you are a person who lives with or works with swine or pigs, or are experiencing symptoms of the flu, it is imperative that you see a doctor immediately. Should you believe yourself to be infected with the Swine Flu, go directly to the hospital for treatment.

Already since January, 2012, there were cases of Swine Flu variants being passed on person-to-person. What this means is that the virus coating itself has morphed such that it no longer needs a pig host to spread, and instead can use a human host. Therefore, the 2012 Swine Flu variants have now become a human flu virus of swine origin. But the less-adept immune systems in elderly and juvenile flu victims seem to be incapable of mounting enough of a response to cause the virus to morph.