Wednesday, May 6, 2009

Why Keep an Eye on the Flu

I know, I know we have about had it up to here and there and back again with the talk about this or that flu. To the point where many are discussing the possibility that this is/was much ado about nothing. People who I respect and who are much smarter than I am (certainly doesn't narrow the field by any stretch, does it?) have suggested that we are perhaps not getting the whole story and perhaps the thing is overblown.

If you are in this group may I commend to you two very informative blogs which you can find on the left hand side of my own toward the top of the page.

The first is Effect Measure a blog by scientists who look at this stuff day in and day out and not just when its in the news.

The second, which I have read a great deal of today is titled the Avian Flu Diary, which also is keeping tabs on the current virus.

These blogs explain both past outbreaks, present outbreaks and possible future outbreaks and goes along way toward explaining the confusing picture that often arises and why we cannot ignore even "mild" outbreaks:

...As we continue to try to sketch out the descriptive epidemiology -- the spectrum of severity, who is getting sick, what is the incubation period, where is disease happening -- the recommendations and judgments of CDC, WHO and local agencies will change in response. That may be confusing or unsettling but it is the only rational way to proceed. We are all learning as they go along, and in some cases, making it up as we go along....

...35 of the 279 cases in the US have been hospitalized, and two patients in Canada are reported severely ill. The fever, headache and joint and muscle pains characteristic of this and all influenza can be miserable and keep you out of work or school for a week or more and feeling lousy for weeks after that.

Relatively benign isn't benign, unless your comparison is a stay in the intensive care unit or a fatal outcome.... (Effect Measure- Swine Flu-Where we are)

Further examples of the good info below. In addition to learning the difference between "shift" and drift" and why it matters, they have provided an excellent description of the "Liverpool Flu" which to me, more than anything, underscores and explains why the CDC and WHO need to watch these things so carefully.

With a novel influenza virus suddenly appearing at the end of our flu season in the Northern Hemisphere, all eyes will be on the Southern Hemisphere over the next few months to see how `fit’ the virus is, and to get some idea of what our next flu season may bring.

The A/H1N1 has the potential to mutate (drift) or re-assort with other flu viruses (shift), which could result in a more virulent strain. The more people (and other hosts) who acquire the virus, the more chances the virus has to evolve.

Of course the virus could lose virulence, or even its ability to spread, as well. We’ll just have to wait and see.

While the public’s attention is on this new, emerging virus, scientists have long known that abrupt changes can occur even in well established seasonal flu viruses.

The infamous `Liverpool Flu’ of 1951 has faded from most people’s memory, but for about 6 weeks a super-virulent strain of flu swept out of north western England, killing at a rate faster than the pandemic of 1918.

I chronicled the details of this outbreak last October in
Sometimes . . . Out Of The Blue, but briefly: for about 6 weeks the UK (and to a lesser extent Canada), saw a horrific rise in flu fatalities in 1951.

This `rogue flu’, for reasons we don’t fully fathom, disappeared as suddenly as it appeared.

While we are learning more every day, there is still a great deal that scientists do not understand about how influenza viruses spread and evolve.
(Shift Happens)

Did I mention that the blogs are also timely and updated often?

Proving that timing is everything, a couple of hours later we are getting reports of a newly discovered mutation in the seasonal H3N2 virus that may be clouding the A/H1N1 picture.

Maggie Fox, Science Reporter for Reuters, brings us the story.
Second strain of flu may complicate picture-study
06 May 2009 15:02:09 GMT
Source: Reuters
* Mutations seen in seasonal flu strain
* May have caused Canadian late-season outbreak
* May complicate picture in Mexico
By Maggie Fox, Health and Science Editor
WASHINGTON, May 6 (Reuters) - A second strain of influenza, one of the seasonal strains, may have mutated and may be complicating the picture in Mexico, Canadian researchers reported on Wednesday.

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