Monday, April 27, 2009

ZooFlu SWAGs

Again, SWAGs are 'scientific wild-ass guesses'. And 'ZooFlu' instead of 'the current varient on swine flu' because Jane on some of the survival lists I'm on named it that, because it combines genetics of influenzas from three different animals. And it rhymes.

About two weeks ago a new influenza started moving in Mexico. It's an H1N1 influenza that started in pigs. It is spreading human to human, and appears to be very easily spread via air and surfaces. Death rate from this, in Mexico, looks to be at least 7% which is WAY higher than the typical less than 2% influenza death rate. That said, it is WAY lower than the at least 10% (and possibly 20%) death rate from the 1918 avian influenza pandemic. And as of last night no one has died of it in the US.

The death rate among those with this flu in Mexico is the number one reason. If it bleeds (or dies) it leads in the news media. Why it has gotten the attention of the public health community is both the high death rate in Mexico AND hitting at a warm time of year.
See, flu viri are weather sensitive. They like cold weather and low humidity. Mexico city probably has low humidity, but spring is warm enough there that a wildly spreading influenza is might darn unusual and dangerous.
Another unusual factor is that we're seeing such mortality in an H1 flu virus. In a normal flu the ones with high mortality are varients on H5 or H7's, not H1's. Pandemics have been H1's, H2's, H3's. OTOH, that might just be an artifact - microbiologists first worked to identify the pandemic viruses, so they got serotyped first.

Grist has an article trying to link the zoo flu with Smithfield pork production in Mexico, due to their pollution of water/air. The pollution is not likely to be a factor - viri need a live vector, especially to recombine. And insects like flies don't work for the recombitant part.
Epidemiologists and public health folks (like me, actually - I've a bachelor's degree in public health) have long expected the next pandemic to come from pigs. Not only are pigs biologically close to humans but they have long been known as a vector for influenza recombining. And that's even BEFORE the issue of factory pork raising enters the picture.

Prevention - wash your hands. A lot. Don't touch your hands to your face/eyes. To be honest, I'm a prepper enough that I have N95 facial masks, too. I've not started wearing them when I go out yet.
There is no vaccine for this. Yeah, I know - we had a swine flu vaccine in 1976. But this is not your father's swine flu. It's the ZooFlu. It's not genetically the same. And, THINK - even if it had been the same, vaccines are not fine wines. They do NOT improve sitting on a shelf (or in a freezer) for 30 years.
And even tho' the fall '08 influenza vacccine covered ONE H1N1 varient, there does not appear to be cross protection.
Treatment - so far 'they' say this responds to Tamiflu and Relenza.

This is a real problem. Yes, the healthier you are the less likely you are to get anything. However if you DO get something like this, dispite nutrition/prevention/etc, there is a problem - it's the healthiest that die. What tends to kill folks who have a killer influenza is their own over responding immune system, filling their lungs with fluid, etc. It's called a cytokine storm, cytokine's being one of our body's antibodies. The healthiest bodies produce the biggest storm. This is different than what happens in a more typical flu death - there it's an elderly person who gets the flu then gets pneumonia on top of it, and the pneumonia kills 'em.

Wash your hands. Don't touch your face and eyes. The rest is a crapshoot.

Catch you later!


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