The outbreak in the Americas is starting to look rather serious. At issue is the idea that the virus has managed to sneakily combine not only swine flu and human flu genes, but it has also managed to get some avian flu genes also. Clearly a virus strain with a very interesting history. Avian flu was considered the most likely candidate for the next flu pandemic, so this “threefer” is ringing a whole lot of alarm bells.
The World Health Organization is set to declare the deadly swine flu virus outbreak in Mexico and the U.S. a global concern, potentially prompting travel restrictions, said a person familiar with the matter.
An emergency committee of the WHO in Geneva will declare the outbreak “a public health event of international concern” in a 4 p.m. teleconference today, said the person, who spoke on condition of anonymity because the meeting is confidential. In response, WHO Director-General Margaret Chan may raise the level of pandemic alert, which could lead to travel restrictions aimed at curbing the disease’s spread. – Bloomberg News
Given our modern antivirals, some of which have been proven to be effective on this new strain, it is unlikely that the mortality rate would be anything like the 1918 Spanish Flu pandemic, but it could still be rather nasty, especially if it makes it as far as the densely populated cities of the developing world who cannot afford widespread preventative use of antiviral drugs. Like the Spanish flu it seems to be at its worst in otherwise healthy young adults, unlike more common strains which are mostly a danger to the elderly, infirm, or very young.
So far it has only been found in Mexico and the southern US, but the BBC has quoted a “top US health official” as saying that “the strain of swine flu had spread widely and could not be contained.”. It is only a matter of time before it crops up somewhere else, I expect, most likely elsewhere in Central America.
It is not the most important aspect of this, but the very last thing the global economy needs right now is travel restrictions and the shutting down of public buildings such as schools and libraries. (Mexico City has pretty much shut down everything, and I don’t blame them one bit.) Nice timing, pandemic swine flu.
With any luck, it’ll peter out like the other outbreaks of recent years, but until then, it deserves our attention. I hope the UK is ready to offer all the scientific assistance we can provide.
I draw odd comfort from seeing that the pro-rapture movement has already started putting out the idea that this is possibly the beginning of the apocalypse. Given their record for being utterly wrong on such predictions is 100%, maybe we’ll get through this alright!
Update: The US Center for Disease Control has just confirmed 2 cases in the state of Kansas, 8 suspected cases in New York, and additional confirmed cases in Texas.
Update: According to MSNBC, there are suspected cases in Minnesota and Massachusetts.
Some thoughts: How common is it for a virus to manage to gather genes from swine flu, avian flu, and human flu before it gets noticed? I would have thought it would have been causing problems when it combined just two of those. Has this happened before?
Update, 1 AM, 26th of April:
Genetic analysis of the virus indicates it is highly unusual: It is a hybrid that resulted from a combination of four different viruses — one that typically infects people, one that originated in North American birds and two from pigs in Europe and Asia. – Washington Post