Assessing the Danger of New Flu

Posted by Kendall Harmon

Sorting through the “marquee flus” of recent years — SARS, avian flu and now swine flu — is complicated.

The three come from different viruses and carry different kinds of danger, depending on ease of transmission and virulence. As a benchmark, the deadliest influenza pandemic in the past century, the Spanish influenza of 1918 to 1919, had an estimated mortality rate of around 2.5 percent but killed tens of millions of people because it spread so widely.

The new swine flu cases are caused by an influenza strain called H1N1, which appears to be easily passed from person to person. Mexican health authorities have confirmed 149 deaths from that flu and are investigating the illnesses of 1,600 people, and the United States, Canada, Spain and other countries have confirmed or are investigating cases.

Read it all.

Filed under: * Culture-WatchGlobalizationHealth & Medicine

Posted April 28, 2009 at 9:00 am [Printer Friendly] [Print w/ comments]

1. mari wrote:

The Mexican data is inaccurate, given the reports that have emerged from that country’s press over the weekend. The swine flu was first found in February, but Mexico’s government sat on the information. Many reports have come out that it’s doctors and hospitals have refused to treat the poor, one report came out that a man was thrown out of an ambulance because he might have been contagious. The US government, in the pockets of the corporate and foreign interests that place trade above the lives of citizens, has refused to put in place the same protections the rest of the world has, and has only, since Monday made a few gestures, mainly for show. I’d recomend people not buying pork, and letting your grocery stores know that you are concerned about Mexican pork contaminating the domestic meat supply, and that you won’t purchase products in stores that carry Mexican pork. It is spreading, in SW Michigan, they’ve diagnosed new cases in two different counties.

April 28, 9:55 am | [comment link]
2. Katherine wrote:

mari, you don’t get the swine flu from Mexican pork.  You get it from people.  Is your idea is that if nobody produced any pork and killed all the pigs everywhere, we wouldn’t get swine flu?  I’m not even sure that would work, now that the virus is in the stream of viruses which affect humans person-to-person.  This would be like saying we won’t get bird flu if we just kill all the birds.

April 28, 11:18 am | [comment link]
3. John316 wrote:


My son returned from New Orleans a month ago with what the doctor said was a late season case of the flu.  He survived and the rest of us avoided coming down with the disease.
Below are suggested steps one can take to avoid getting sick.

Cover your nose and mouth with a tissue when you cough or sneeze. Throw the tissue in the trash after you use it.
Wash your hands often with soap and water, especially after you cough or sneeze. Alcohol-based hands cleaners are also effective.
Avoid touching your eyes, nose or mouth. Germs spread that way.
Try to avoid close contact with sick people.

Influenza is thought to spread mainly person-to-person through coughing or sneezing of infected people.
If you get sick, CDC recommends that you stay home from work or school and limit contact with others to keep from infecting them.

April 28, 11:33 am | [comment link]
4. drjoan wrote:

Masks give a false sense of protection—especially if worn incorrectly.  Look at the pictures of the folks in Mexico City and their masks.  Close to half are worn BELOW the nose and many are actually worn simply around the neck!
The best technique, as good today as it has ALWAYS been, is good handwashing .  And lest you think a dash through the water is enough, here is a trick that works:
    Lather up and sing “Twinkle, twinkle little star” all the way through while you scrub with the soap on your hands.  You should also be using warm, not hot, water.  This also works with the ABC song.
Stay well!

April 28, 11:59 am | [comment link]
5. Pageantmaster ن wrote:

I always read what the World Health Organisation has to say for the the latest news whenever any of these things happen.  I have found them helpful in the past.

April 28, 12:48 pm | [comment link]
6. John316 wrote:

I can add that our entire family got the flu shot last fall, but my son came down with the flu last month anyway.  We were all treated with an anti-viral, Relenza, and followed the common sense advice here.

April 28, 12:58 pm | [comment link]
7. mari wrote:

No Katherine, I’m not saying that one should kill all the pigs, please don’t dramatize. What I am saying, is what health services administrators in foreign departments of health have stated, every country but the US that has imported Mexican pork up to this, banned the importation of pork from Mexico on Friday, and from 5 US states. That pork from Mexico can be considered contaminated, and it can spread the infection, to workers who cut up, process and package the meat. There can be cross contamination to other meat they handle/process. As anyone who has ever purchased meat in a grocery can tell you, the packaging is not all leak proof, and it can be further spread through blood and liquids that leak out. Of course, once meat is completely cooked, it’s considered safe, but we’re not talking about the importation of cooked meat, now are we?

Read the reports from Mexican doctors on the BBC site, the pandemic is not under control as the Mexican government claims:

Read this report from Reuters, that informs us that Janet Napolitano, secretary of Homeland Security is refusing to test people coming from Mexico for swine flu.

We’re being deliberately misinformed by our government, which neither helps us, nor the people of Mexico. Were our government to adhere to the same standards we used to adhere to, the same standards the rest of the world is adhering to now, it might force the Mexican government to deal more honestly and forcefully to help save more of it’s peoples lives.. or is that something you simply don’t care about? Perhaps the miniscule financial losses of the corporate and foreign interests who prefer globalization, over human lives motivates you more?

April 28, 2:28 pm | [comment link]
8. Milton wrote:

John316, stop making so much sense!  How are the news media going to whip people into a panic and make them watch 24-hour news with people like you spreading that stuff around?  Why, a pandemic of sanity might break out!  ;^P

April 28, 3:36 pm | [comment link]
9. John316 wrote:

Reuters states the obvious without giving much detail.  I know enough about the flu from our recent bout with it to know that an infected person is contagious before they show any signs of having the disease.  I also know that unless we are clearly presenting symptoms of the disease, we don’t have enough of the virus in our body to test positive for the flu.  So, I’m not sure that it would be reasonable for us to expect the government to stop everyone coming in at the border and spend our tax dollars to test them when the results wouldn’t mean anything.

If anything, I trust that our government is going to want to keep us healthy and working.  Any government, socialist or capitalist, wants a healthy productive workforce.

Here is a brief look at the government’s response to the swine flu scare of 1976 in which more died from the vaccine than from the disease.

April 28, 7:45 pm | [comment link]
10. John316 wrote:

Oops, here is the link to the ‘76 Swine Flu story.  I remember those days well.

April 28, 7:55 pm | [comment link]
11. mari wrote:

Katherine, the virus is spreadable via contamination, as well as handling pigs. It was first found in a child, who did not come into actual contact with pigs, but through pig feces that were blown into the air, carried by birds. Here’s an article on the ground zero of the swine flu in Mexico, that the Mexican government still refuses to inspect. It’s issuing claims that the farm in question is just fine and dandy. Dr. Sanjay Gupta from CNN just pretty much provided lip service to that claim, but actually admitted the fact that it started in February, because the international press is refusing to parrot the US/Mexican propaganda. Americans are more and more avoiding pork now, as we don’t trust our media or our government.

April 28, 2009
Mexico outbreak traced to ‘manure lagoons’ at pig farm
Edgar Hernandez, 4, right, who according to Veracruz state Governor Miguel Herrera survived the swine flu, stands in his home in La Gloria village in Mexico’s Veracruz state

Chris Ayres in Mexico City

The first known case of swine flu emerged a fortnight earlier than previously thought in a village where residents have long complained about the smell and flies from a nearby pig farm, it emerged last night.

The Mexican Government said it initially thought that the victim, Edgar Hernandez, 4, was suffering from ordinary influenza but laboratory testing has since shown that he had contracted swine flu. The boy went on to make a full recovery, although it is thought that at least 148 others in Mexico have died from the disease, and the number is expected to rise.

News of the infected boy is expected to create controversy in Mexico because the boy lived in Veracruz state, home to thousands of farmers who claim that their land was stolen from them by the Mexican Government in 1992. The farmers, who call themselves Los 400 Pueblos – The 400 Towns – are famous for their naked marches through the streets of Mexico City.

The boy’s hometown, La Gloria, is also close to a pig farm that raises almost 1 million animals a year. The facility, Granjas Carroll de Mexico, is partly owned by Smithfield Foods, a Virginia-based US company and the world’s largest producer and processor of pork products. Residents of La Gloria have long complained about the clouds of flies that are drawn the so-called “manure lagoons” created by such mega-farms, known in the agriculture business as Confined Animal Feeding Operations (CAFOs).

It is now known that there was a widespread outbreak of a powerful respiratory disease in the La Gloria area earlier this month, with some of the town’s residents falling ill in February. Health workers soon intervened, sealing off the town and spraying chemicals to kill the flies that were reportedly swarming through people’s homes.

A spokeswoman for Smithfield, Keira Ullrich, said that the company had found no clinical signs or symptoms of the presence of swine influenza in its swine herd or its employees working at its joint ventures anywhere in Mexico. Meanwhile, Mexico’s National Organisation of Pig Production and Producers released its own statement, saying: “We deny completely that the influenza virus affecting Mexico originated in pigs because it has been scientifically demonstrated that this is not possible.”

According reports gathered on the website of James Wilson, a founding member of the Biosurveillance Indication and Warning Analysis Community (BIWAC), about 60 per cent of La Gloria’s 3,000-strong population have sought medical assistance since February.

“Residents claimed that three pediatric cases, all under two years of age, died from the outbreak,” wrote Mr Wilson. “However, officials stated that there was no direct link between the pediatric deaths and the outbreak; they said the three fatal cases were isolated and not related to each other.”

The case of the four-year-old boy was announced yesterday by Mexico’s Health Minister, Jose Angel Cordova, at a press conference that was briefly interrupted by an earthquake. “We are at the most critical moment of the epidemic. The number of cases will keep rising so we have to reinforce preventive measures,” he said, adding that in addition to the 149 deaths another 2,000 had been hospitalised with “grave pneumonia”, although at least half of that number had since made a full recovery.

Mr Cordova went on to say that there have been no new cases detected in La Gloria but epidemiologists want to take a closer look at pigs in Mexico as a potential source of the outbreak.

As the desease spread Greater Mexico City, usually a chaotic, traffic-snarled megatropolis of 22 million – where braised pork or carnitas, is prepared at taco stands on busy street corners – remained at a virtual standstill yesterday.

A majority of people are now wearing surgical masks and or plastic gloves in public. Airport terminals are deserted. Schools and government offices are closed and will remain so until at least early May – creating a childcare crisis for millions of working parents.

Many Mexicans are fearing the economic devastation caused by the health emergency as much as they are the prospect of swine flu. Adding to the misery, several countries including China have banned imports of live pigs and pork products from Mexico (and parts of the US) in spite of claims by farming trade groups that it is impossible to catch the virus from cooked meat.

April 29, 2:17 pm | [comment link]
12. mari wrote:

btw, a Smithfield exec lies in this article, about it’s workers, claiming that they haven’t found to be infected. The facts are that many of them are sick, and have been demanding the government order hospitals to examine them. Those that are still healthy are demanding the government provide face masks to them and their families, as they are terrified of becoming ill, and later dying, due to the not so tender mercies of their corrupt state.

April 29, 2:19 pm | [comment link]
13. Katherine wrote:

mari, I am not claiming that Mexico has acted properly.  It reacted slowly and criticism of this is deserved.  Even your link says the majority of Mexicans are now wearing masks.  I point to this section:

Many Mexicans are fearing the economic devastation caused by the health emergency as much as they are the prospect of swine flu. Adding to the misery, several countries including China have banned imports of live pigs and pork products from Mexico (and parts of the US) in spite of claims by farming trade groups that it is impossible to catch the virus from cooked meat.

Your proposed remedy, that all Mexican pork producers be put out of business, will punish many who are not responsible for the outbreak and are poor.

Further, the link provides no evidence that supermarket pork or cooked meat can spread flu.  Assuming the story of the genesis of this flu to be correct, a little boy got it by inhaling the virus from the waste pond.  It then spread by sneezing and coughing.  You can get a variety of parasites and bacteria from raw or undercooked pork, but you don’t get respiratory diseases that way.

April 29, 2:32 pm | [comment link]
14. Sherri2 wrote:

From the CDC FAQ on swine flu:

Can I get swine influenza from eating or preparing pork?
No. Swine influenza viruses are not spread by food. You cannot get swine influenza from eating pork or pork products. Eating properly handled and cooked pork products is safe.

I’m not prepared to believe they are lying.

April 29, 2:51 pm | [comment link]
15. David |däˈvēd| wrote:

Mari is perpetuating misinformation and false information about this flu and the Mexican response. I am on the ground here live. i live in Monterrey. I watch our local news and I watch the world news from CNN International and the BBC.

You cannot get swine flu from handling the meat of pigs. Not even pigs who had the flu before they were slaughtered. The flu is a respiratory illness, caused by a virus and passed from person to person through the normal vectors, unwashed hands, and unprotected coughing and sneezing, which are vectors for passing infected respiratory mucus. Feces is not a vector for passing influenza. This flu passed from pigs to humans some time ago, not recently. The US CDC reports that it shows to be a mutation of human, swine and avian flu, and has characteristics that it is from Asia. So the big question is how did it jump to my country?

The US, Canada and Mexico have just passed through the flu season. Millions of citizens from all three countries have been suffering from the flu. And, surprise, a few thousand have died in the USA alone, since January, from the flu. The flu kills many people annually. Not until mid-April did really severe cases of sudden unset respiratory illness with flu-like symptoms resulting in deaths, ring any bells that there was anything out of the ordinary. Within a few days of patients in more than one location appearing to have the same symptoms were specimens on their way to Winnipeg, Canada, where our federal Dept of Health has contracts with laboratories that we do not have ourselves. Within hours it was known to be swine flu and contacts were made to WHO and the US CDC.

The little boy in Veracruz has been the only person in the area, of all those with flu, who has tested positive for swine flu. His family reports his illness began around 1 APR. It was not even severe enough to hospitalize him. This is the earliest case know to date in Mexico that was swine flu. Retesting those who have died, has dropped the number of cases from around 150, to around 110. There are confirmed case in hospital and some of them may yet die.

Face masks do not really prevent the spread of flu. Infected vapor easily escapes from the mask. The only real way to limit an airborne infection, such as flu, is respirators with filters. That is not feasible with an entire population. But the masks cut down on large droplet contamination and make people feel safer, so it lowers anxiety.

We have three types of hospitals here. Private hospitals, where you have private insurance or the rich can pay cash. Social Security hospitals, where those with legal jobs pay into the SS socialized medicine system and are treated free. And charity hospitals, usually connected with university medical schools. We also have municipal, state and federal health departments. No one is being denied treatment. Some may expect better treatment than the system provides. Not very different than in the US or Canada.

April 29, 8:04 pm | [comment link]
16. Katherine wrote:

David, I agree with what you say.  Other news sources are also now reporting that while this one small boy did have swine flu, his family and other people in the area did not.  Anecdotal stories create hysteria, but we need to wait for scientific confirmation before going overboard.  The actual source of this virus has not been identified, and it’s a mutation containing several strains, some not-swine.

Here in Egypt the government has ordered the killing of ALL pigs, even though not one sick pig or any cases of the flu have been found.  Islamists are pushing to prevent the raising of pigs by Copts because the Islamic law calls pigs unclean.  It’s politics, not science.  There were riots at farms here yesterday when the authorities came to try to kill the pigs.

April 30, 1:47 am | [comment link]
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