H1N1 swine flu spreading in U.S. and Canada

Back in 2009-2010 there were major fears of an H1N1 pandemic — the flu did claim somewhere around 20,000 lives worldwide, mostly in China and third world countries, but the fears of a major pandemic along the lines of the 1918 influenza did not pan out.

The situation now is more worrying. In the past month, there have been 5 confirmed deaths from a more virulent and more easily spread from human-to-human version of the virus in eastern Texas. Close to two dozen deaths there are suspected but not yet confirmed. In addition to eastern Texas, there has been an outbreak of confirmed cases clustering in Michigan — at least 6 have died and more than a dozen people suffering from it are in critical condition on life support. Yesterday, the first confirmed deaths from H1N1 were recorded in California, Oregon and Indiana. 5 deaths from H1N1 have now been confirmed in the past week in Alberta, Canada (with nearly 1,000 more new cases of infection confirmed), three in Saskatchewan, and, as of yesterday, two more deaths in Toronto.

The CDC is reporting (as of 9 hours ago as I write this) that 25 U.S. States are reporting widespread infection from “flu” — though they do not report the strains involved. Many are undoubtedly from the various flu strains that hit every year but….

What is causing serious concern is that, even though it is flu season, doctors from the CDC and Canada’s corollary are saying that H1N1 is so far the most prevalent form of flu being seen so far this winter (more than half the cases) and the most prevalent in causing deaths. That is causing something well short of a panic among the scientific community but raising alarm bells. Another thing raising alarm bells is that a much higher proportion of the confirmed deaths are people not generally in the fatal category — in other words, it isn’t just causing death or life-threatening symptoms in the very young, the very old and those who have other immune-system compromising problems (e.g., pregnancy, chronic illness). In other words, a higher number of people ‘in the prime of life’ are becoming fatalities or going into critical condition so far than is usually seen. What makes my personal alarm bells ring is the reports that the virus seems to be mutating and very rapidly, becoming not only more easily spread but more virulent and already modifying to overcome the current vaccines.

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4 responses to “H1N1 swine flu spreading in U.S. and Canada”

  1. Lynne says :

    From my own family history, I know about the flu epidemic in the years 1918-1919. My great-grandmother and her young daughter (my grandmother) lived in a small bayou community that one would expect to be isolated from the epidemic. Not so. Both of them got the flu along with most of the other inhabitants of that small settlement. The sheriff with deputies went door to door inquiring whether people in the house had flu, leaving behind caskets on the porches or in the front yard for those infected. The death toll was extremely high but both survived. I am sure that having those caskets on the porch did little to encourage people!
    One of the main ways that the flu is spread is when people stand in line in stores or when obtaining services. Being within six feet of someone with flu is an exposure. People most likely to spread the flu are those who have it but are not yet feeling symptoms.
    I am now seeing people wearing masks in stores here in Austin. Not a bad idea. Texas was one of the first areas to have deaths from flu, and I think that Austin has had two or three of those deaths. Those who died were not in a risk category.

    • israeliminx says :

      Ema — wearing masks is great but not enough — the standard hospital mask used by doctors and nurses has a weave that is tight enough to block against many pathogens but not tight enough against the standard flu viruses which are expelled in microscopically tiny airborne droplets. Further, you are more likely to get it by touch. Did you know that the average person touches their face more than 1,000 times in a 12 hour period? So, touch a doorknob or elevator button, nice tomato or grapefruit in the grocery store, or even peripherally any other surface someone carrying the disease has touched, brushed against, or even sneezed within a 10 foot radius of, and mask or no,and you’ve been exposed and are likely to get it if you don’t decontaminate your fingers before they brush against …yeah I would be auditing a virology course right as flu season hits, sigh.

  2. Lynne says :

    The flu is definitely spreading all over the US, especially in the South with high concentrations of the epidemic in Texas, Louisiana, Mississippi, and Alabama. There are also other viruses which are causing cold symptoms and then quickly going into pneumonia. I wonder if the crazy weather patterns are promoting the growth of these pathogens?

    • israeliminx says :

      Ema it could be the weather. The weather is really not all that crazy if we look to history– it is on a 30-something-yearish cycle. There was a ‘polar vortex’ back in the 70s (and scientist claimed it was a harbinger of a new mini-ice age because of global cooling), again in the early 40s, and back in the 1800s….

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