Wednesday, April 29, 2009

Swine Flu Panic : Are we overreacting?

FURTHER UPDATE: Mexico Swine flu toll stabilising [Link]

UPDATE: Commonly prescribed drugs such as Tamiful are found to be effective against the disease[Link] and several sources reported that they have been used successfully. The main concern is the death of young health men resembling the deaths during the Spanish flu outbreak in 1918 due to cytokine storm an over-reaction of the immune system. But when the bug got out of Mexico behaved more like any other influenza virus - highly infectious but not fatal. Guys stay calm okay - this storm will soon pass. [Swine flu mysteries : Why only deaths in Mexico?]

The WHO raised the pandemic alert level to 4 yesterday. But if you read the statement from WHO, once a new disease shows human to human transmission, the alert level is raised. The WHO has to play it safe and exercise "an abundance of caution". It is also probably correct to 'overreact' given this is a new virus. The newswires and TV news has been 'bombarding' us with new cases reported - confirm and unconfirmed. The fear among people has been mounting. But is this fear rational? A number of people refuse to eat pork although there is no proof and is unlikely the disease can be transmitted by eating pork - viruses are easily killed (more easily killed than bacteria) simply by heating food virus can survive frying. If you're not eating pork raw, it should be completely safe.

Given the avalanche of fear evoking bad news surrounding the swine flu, I would like to bring your attention to the article below. It describes the what happened to 4 students in Nova Scotia who contracted the swine flu. They suffered from no worse than normal flu-like symptoms and then recovered. In fact in almost all cases outside Mexico, the symptoms have been mild and nobody has died. The normal flu which sweeps seasonally through the world every year kills thousands because it infects millions of people - statistically some of them are too weak to handle it. Even chicken pox can lead to death in some cases due to complications. Scientists are now trying to figure out what happened in Mexico where 150+ people died from the flu - did the virus mutate to a milder form? Were there 2 strain of viruses and only 1 survive to infect others? In the coming days, we will probably know whether this flu is just like the common cold that makes its rounds every year or something more sinister. To put some perspective into this consider the fact that 36,000 people die from flu-related symptoms each year in the United States based on official figures from the US CDC[Link 1 Link2]. There is no framing in the reporting of the swine flu and that causes a lot of panic and fear.

My own gut feel is that this 'panic-monium' we are seeing will begin to subside soon. However, one should take the precautions just in case - good hand washing, stay at home if you get sick, no unnecessary travel to Mexico.

N.S. students with swine flu recovered: officials
Last Updated: Monday, April 27, 2009 7:35 PM AT
CBC News
Students wearing face masks gather on the campus of King's-Edgehill School on Monday. (THE CANADIAN PRESS/Andrew Vaughan)The four Nova Scotia students who contracted swine flu have recovered, though 27 others with flu-like symptoms remain in isolation, school officials say.

Joe Seagram, headmaster of King's Edgehill private school in Windsor, provided the update Monday, a day after the four cases were confirmed.

Seagram said some parents were keeping their children home and attendance was lower than normal, though he didn't give any numbers.

"I suspect it will pick up as people are reassured by the news. I'm hoping that things will get back to normal as the week progresses," Seagram told reporters.

The four confirmed cases of swine flu at the school in Windsor were among the first in Canada. Compared to Mexico, where nearly 150 people are suspected to have died from the outbreak, the cases were relatively mild.

Seagram said none of the students who were confirmed to have the virus were hospitalized. He said three of them, and a number of others who had flu symptoms, have been cleared to return to class.

Dr. Mark Kasimirski, the school's physician, said he heard the fourth student, who is in Halifax, has also recovered.

Still, 27 students remain isolated from other students, while two staff members are at home, Seagram said.

Seagram said the students who remain in isolation are together in a central residence. They can watch TV, go online and interact with each other, but they've been told to remain behind closed doors.

"These are smart kids who are very responsible," Seagram said.

Public health officials suspect the virus was spread by students after a school trip to Mexico's Yucatan Peninsula earlier this month. Of the four students confirmed with the virus, only one was on the trip.

Seagram said no one thought it was the swine flu at first, particularly because the students were sick outside the incubation period and the outbreak in Mexico was in a different region.

Seagram said he got the test results confirming swine flu on Sunday morning.

He said he's pleased with the way the school has handled the matter. Public health officials are notified for any form of the flu, he added, noting the only thing the school is doing differently now is swabbing students twice for testing instead of only once.

Classes are running as usual, though attendance has dropped.

"We're all operating on a day-to-day basis and we're all trying to figure out what really our comfort levels are," Seagram said.

Seagram said his two children are still going to class.

Dr. Robert Strang, the province's chief medical officer, said there have been no other confirmed cases of swine flu in Nova Scotia, but public health officials continue to monitor the situation closely.

"This is a very fluid situation which is changing rapidly," Strang said late Monday afternoon.

In an interview with CBC News earlier in the day, Strang said he had heard reports of a rush of patients with influenza symptoms at the emergency room at Hants Community Hospital.

However, Kasimirski, who's also the hospital's chief of staff, said he believes most of those flu cases are unrelated to the swine flu cases at King's Edgehill.

Eva Lake, 76, who lives in the Windsor area, said she's not afraid, though she'll be washing her hands more frequently.

"It's too bad it's here in Nova Scotia, but I guess we can't escape it," Lake said. "I don't go out a lot, so hopefully, I don't run into anyone with it."


yamizi said...

Bringing us away from the real issues perhaps?

Anonymous said...

I don't think we are overreacting. A pandemic is a rather serious problem and our state propaganda media isn't the only one giving it so much coverage. Major agencies like BBC and Al Jazeera have also devoted a lot of attention to the issue. While most cases outside of Mexico appear to be mild, it's garnering attention because it is a new, mutated strain of flu that appears to be highly contagious.

Anonymous said...

Just a small correction. When I say that we are not overreacting, I am referring to the coverage provided by the state media. I do, however, think that people who are avoiding pork are overreacting.

Anonymous said...

Lucky, all the indications so far suggested this is the real one. It is a new virus crossing three frontiers. It strikes the young and healthy. The similarity with the outbreak in 1918 is too great. The pattern of outbreak is a mild first wave follow a few months later by a severe second wave and then a mild third wave before this outbreak is over. In thr 1918 outbreak the first wave was also very mild and many survived after contacting it. The virus then adapted and became more deadly.

Anonymous said...

Better Kiasee then to be sorry considering Singaporean dine out most of their time and the flu virus can easily be transmitted via food utensil or atmosphere

Ghost said...

No, we are not overreacting. The swine flu outbreak is suspected to have killed 159 in Mexico and they have another 2,498 suspected cases. Cases are confirmed from New Zeland, to Spain, to the Middle East.
To yamizi:
People are dead from the swine flu. I think that's as 'real' as anything you are thinking of.

Anonymous said...

I think we will know in 1-2 weeks time. If nothing big come to other countries, then the flu news will come to a natural death. Meanwhile, better safe than sorry lor

LuckySingaporean said...

I would agree on the "better safe than sorry" approach to this whole thing minus the fear factor.

Wash hands. Cough away from people. Stay at home when sick. Avoid crowds. Avoid unnecessary travels.

Was listening to this expert - simple common sense precautions make the biggest difference in the spread.

Anonymous said...

Are humans loosing their natural immunity to some common viruses that in the past only causes mild symtons?

Those of us who lived during the 50's can remember diseases affecting pigs, ducks and chickens, but strangely humans were totally unaffected.

Is it really because of mutation of the viruses or is it because our immune systems are loosing their ability to fight them, that every time a virus affects some living thing, humans get it as well.

Are we now paying the price of over dependence on drugs and antibiotics that our bodies can no longer fight infections by itself? I hope not.

Lost Citizen

Anonymous said...

evolution has given us the immunity against many unknown and 'extinct' virus, some of them are permanently etched in our genes, laying dormant. the problem nowadays is that we has eradicate most of the weaker ones, and with the increasing high level of hygience in our food especially, our future generations no longer has so much antibodies in their blood to counter these new waves of disease. the last rojak incident tells us alot. in those days when we are still eating by road sides, do we see such outbreak? think about that.

Anonymous said...

Well, just becouse the outbreak was next to the USA, the americans got hysterikal.

Onlooker said...

Considering that there are people who actually die in Mexico and America (California).
It is better to err on the cautious side.
Agree with the view above, The point is do not live in an over sanitized environment.Virus and Bacteria are constantly evolving just like us humans.
For example,Due to the over usage of antibiotic, a lot of pathogens have gain immunity to those drugs.
So Whatever happen,If feel sick see a doctor ASAP and do not pray and hope it will go away.
Some money cannot be save one. :)

Anonymous said...

Could it be that the swines are getting back at humans ?

George Orwell thought that the Pigs were the smartest in his book; The Animal Farm.

One elderly folk told me, it's payback time(from the pigs) because we keep slaughtering them.

'Payback time' sounds ominous.


Anonymous said...

this things getting out of hand, egypt planning to kill 300000 pigs just to make the ppl there "feel" safe. this is wrong, this will create worse karma!

Anonymous said...

Sometimes we can never tell what is actually good for us. For example, living in an over sanitized environment could lead us to become less tolerant of bacteria that our bodies would normally be able to take care of.

People who have travelled to neighbouring countries may have experienced the effect of drinking less clean water and suffer the effects of upset stomachs. But the people in those countries do not suffer such symptoms. Why? They obviously have better resistance because their bodies have evolved to fight the bacteria.

There are tribes of orang aslis living in the jungles of Malaysia. They are immune to many things like mosquito bites, cold weather, rain, and being stung by bees etc. Why? They too have bodies which have evolved to fight such adversities. We can't. We depend on drugs and our bodies have not evolved to tackle the mutating viruses.

Our younger generation go into NS exposed to a little sun and rain and they have fever and coughs. It does not look good. The older guys will know that in their younger days roving in the sun and playing in the rain are normal childhood activities. They suffer no ill effects.

Lost Citizen

Anonymous said...

look at this ST acticle about teaching kids how to wash hands.

over hygience is very bad idea! next time they can't survive living conditions overseas.

Anonymous said...

shocking news! HK got it now!

Anonymous said...



finally crack. LOL

Anonymous said...



Onlooker said...

Hand washing is one of the means to avoid infection.
Personal hygiene is one of the key but seeing doctor when sick is the more important step.

Vanilla said...

Some countries are taking the opportunity to play up politics. Egypt has ordered for pig culling, as the majority Muslim would have wanted them out of the way anyway. China and Russia can now legitimately practise protectionism by banning pork import.

Anonymous said...

we must strongly condemn the killing of pigs, they give us food and we kill them out of fear. In the latest news, Canadian pigs was infected by a man who returned from mexico. It is human that spread the flu to human and now to pigs. Pigs are innocent!

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Anonymous said...

What those men suffer back then won't be much different from now or in future. Vaccines are vaccines. Genetically engineered bacteria.

In the past, everytime a vaccine came, the pandemic was dying down.

And it seems many more countries are going to over-react again.

Btw, it's Tamiflu (I like the name Tamiful though).

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