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The 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.