Editor's Note: As the swine flu outbreak continues to unfold, we will update Swine Flu Report as needed. In the meantime, please check our special feature for continued coverage.
Maryland Recruits "Flu-Watchers"
Maryland Gov. Martin O'Malley announced today that the state is setting up a broad-based flu surveillance system, which will include teams of citizen Internet "flu-watchers" who will report any flu-like symptoms they might experience.
The system will also utilize the participation of doctors, nurses and other medical practitioners to report evidence of flu cases.
“We have in place an online tool so that anyone in Maryland can become a flu fighter,” said health and mental hygiene secretary John M. Colmers. “Their participation will provide (us) with yet another set of eyes to help detect emerging trends in the community.”
CDC Update: 1639 Confirmed Cases
The CDC reports it has documented 2500 "probable and confirmed" cases of swine flu in 42 states and the District of Columbia. Of those, 1639 are confirmed cases.
Acting CDC chief Richard Besser said that as cases increased, the CDC would pull back on its testing because there simply would not be sufficient resources to test every sample, Reuters reports.
Only 26 people have been hospitalized in the United States, suggesting the vast majority of people recover from swine flu without serious complications. More than half of those hospitalized also had an underlying health problem such as asthma that can exacerbate flu symptoms.
El Niño Could be Bad News for Flu
AccuWeather is reporting that the expected development of the weather condition known as El Niño this summer could mitigate against swine flu in the northern U.S. next winter.
El Niño, a phenomenon where the Pacific Ocean gets warmer off the coast of Central and South America, often produces milder winters in the northern part of the country, the weather agency says on its website.
Scientists have already suggested that flu viruses fare better in colder and drier conditions.
In addition, AccuWeather suggests a harsher winter could force people indoors, where the air is often drier and may be better able to harbor the flu.Continue reading this post »
Worst Case Scenario for the Fall
The virus that has caused the current swine flu -- H1N1 -- seems plenty capable of jumping from one host to another, but lacks lethality -- meaning that most infected people recover quickly. But the worst case scenario for the fall is if this virus genetically combines with the avian flu virus -- dubbed H5N1. Experts are exploring what might happen if these two combine to produce a virus that has both great transmissibility and great lethality. Read the story here.
It is useful to remember the product of a virus that is lethal and a virus that is highly transmissible is not necessarily a virus that has both those characteristics -- even though that may seem logical. Mutations often lead to evolutionary dead ends; they produce virus variants that are incapable of survival. Still, the scary possibility is worth pondering as a worst case scenario.
Swine Flu in the Fall: Vaccinate or Not?
Although we are many months away right now from the fall influenza season, many experts say that is going to be the biggest challenge swine flu poses. We have been fortunate in that the outbreak in the northern hemisphere has coincided with the arrival of warmer weather, but if the virus gains a strong toehold in the southern hemisphere in the next few months, it could potentially strike us hard starting September.
At the same time, cautions are being raised about vaccinating people against swine flu because many experts remember what happened when we tried to do the same thing in 1976. Read about it here.
Another Suspected Flu Case in D.C. Student
The District's health department announced last night that another flu case is suspected in a localstudent.
The student attends the Langdon Education Campus, in northeast Washington, and is recovering at home.
The school was sanitized overnight and will not be closed. The student will stay home until symptoms subside. Explanatory letters will be sent home with students today.
Was the Reaction Proportionate?
The post-mortem analysis of the media coverage of the swine flu outbreak has begun. This might be a little premature, given the outbreak has still not run its course, but it seems quite clear swine flu is not going to have the impact initially feared.
National medical reporter Rob Stein explores this question in an interesting piece today. Public health officials argue that the swine flu outbreak may have intersected with the moment where the world is best prepared to deal with a global outbreak.
WHO Update -- 24 countries
The World Health Organization has tracked 2,384 cases of swine flu in 24 countries.
WHO reports: "Mexico has reported 1,112 laboratory confirmed human cases of infection, including 42 deaths. The United States has reported 896 laboratory confirmed human cases, including two deaths. The following countries have reported laboratory confirmed cases with no deaths - Austria (1), Canada (214), China, Hong Kong Special Administrative Region (1), Colombia (1), Costa Rica (1), Denmark (1), El Salvador (2), France (5), Germany (10), Guatemala (1), Ireland (1), Israel (6), Italy (5), Netherlands (2), New Zealand (5), Poland (1), Portugal (1), Republic of Korea (3), Spain (81), Sweden (1), Switzerland (1) and the United Kingdom (32)."
The WHO warned yesterday that a pandemic could touch the lives of as many as a third of the people on the planet, while simultaneously cautioning that the international health agency was making no such projection about swine flu in particular. Rather, officials said, the point is that it is wise to remain vigilant.
Md. Reports 21 Confirmed Cases of Swine Flu
State health officials say there are 21 confirmed cases of swine flu in Maryland.
The number was reported on Thursday, and is up from the four cases that had been confirmed earlier this week.
The Department of Health and Mental Hygiene also said the state public health laboratory has been approved to perform the tests that confirm swine flu.
The state is investigating two more probable cases.
-- Associated Press