Swine Flu Fears Receding

Swine Flu Fears Receding

The most important mystery surrounding swine flu is the severity of the illness.  Why have almost all the cases in the U.S. been mild while there have been 176 suspected deaths so far in Mexico?

There could be something about Mexico that increases the infection’s fatality rate, such as poorer medical care or less inbred immunity to this type of flu.  It is looking more likely, however, that the vast majority of the swine flu cases in Mexico have also been mild and that this strain of flu, while frightening, is not going to be a whole lot worse than other flu types.  

As more data seeps out of Mexico, perhaps the most telling is about the village where swine flu is believed to have mutated into existence.  More than 800 of the 2,000 members of the village of La Gloria, Mexico became sick, including the five-year-old boy who was the first confirmed case of swine flu one month ago.  No deaths in the village have been reported.

A second piece of comforting news is that scientists studying the swine flu virus do not believe it has the characteristics that made the flu epidemic of 1918-1919 so deadly.  According to Dr. Nancy Fox, head of the Center for Disease Control’s influenza division, “we're not seeing the markers for virulence that we saw in the 1918 virus”.

While anecdotal, I can add that a friend of mine vacationing in the Riviera Maya with her family caught the flu in Mexico over two weeks ago.  Upon returning to the U.S., her husband and both of her girls also came down with all of the classic flu symptoms, but none of them were sick enough to stay home from school or work.  By the time news of the swine flu epidemic began to be reported, they had already recovered.  Did they have swine flu?  We’ll never know, because they weren’t sick enough to see a doctor.  And my guess is that their experience has been shared by thousands of others.   

Nonetheless, we simply don’t know enough to not take some precautions.  Closing a school where there is a known case of swine flu seems appropriate.  I wouldn’t feel totally comfortable with one of my children attending a potentially-infectious school anyway.  Closing an entire school district, as they’ve done in Texas and other places, seems like an overreaction.  

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