Sunday, April 26, 2009

Public Health Emergency: I Think the CDC is Serious About Swine Flu

So far, the CDC has identified 20 cases of swine flu in America.

State # of laboratory
confirmed cases
California 7
Kansas 2
New York City 8
Ohio 1
(CDC April 26, 2009)

"Public Health Emergency" - What's That Mean?

The phrase "public health emergency" has shown up in quite a few news items, but I hadn't seen it defined. So, I did a little checking around, starting with the CDC website. The official definition is a mouthful: I can see why news editors decided not to try explaining it. You can skip over the next couple paragraphs, but I think it's nice to know what these terms mean.

The CDC (Centers for Disease Control and Prevention) defines a public health emergency this way:

"Public health emergency: An occurrence or condition within a Party's ["Party" defined as "A governmental entity or agency that has adopted and executed the Agreement."] jurisdiction which results in a situation of such magnitude or consequence that it cannot be adequately handled by the Party such that the Party determines the necessity and advisability of requesting mutual aid, including but not limited to, bioterrorism or terrorism events, outbreaks or release of dangerously contagious or infectious disease, infectious agents, chemical agents, or toxins, natural disasters, technological hazards, man-made disasters, civil emergencies, community disorders, insurgency, enemy attack, or other public health emergencies that possess the high probability of death, long-term disability, or substantial future harm in the affected population."

Which is about the same way that WHO (World Health Organization) defines it.

Public Health Emergency Declared: Swine Flu Spreading - But Don't Panic

Seriously. Don't panic.

On the other hand, I think it's a good idea to keep up with what this disease is doing.

" U.S. declares public health emergency as swine flu spreads"
CNN (April 26, 2009)

"The United States government declared a public health emergency Sunday as the number of identified cases of swine flu in the nation rose to 20.

"The declaration is part of a 'standard operating procedure' that will make available additional government resources to combat the virus, Homeland Security Secretary Janet Napolitano said at the White House...."

"...In New York City, Mayor Michael Bloomberg said eight students at St. Francis Prepatory School in Queens have tested positive for swine flu. More than 100 students at the school were absent with flu-like symptoms last week, he said...."

I think a key point in the article is in something a White House official said:

"...'I would tell people it's certainly not a time to panic,' [White House spokesman Robert] Gibbs told reporters. 'If you're sick, stay home, get treatment, go see a doctor.' But he added, 'The government is taking all the steps it needs to and must do to take the precautions to deal with whatever size and scope we may be facing.'..."

That's common sense - and I appreciate the tacit assumption that Americans are capable of dealing with personal health issues on their own. And, responsible enough to not spread a disease. (I'm focusing on America because I'm a Minnesotan, and an American - so I have to take what the American government rather personally.)

Swine Flu 2009: Another Day, Another Couple States

I'm watching the progress of this mutant swine flu. I'm not panicking: but I'm not stupid, either. So far, there seem to be two cases in Texas, and one in California. No great surprise there: both states share borders with Mexico. Kansas has two confirmed cases.

About a hundred students in New York City missed school with flu-like symptoms, eight have tested positive for swine flu. And today, Ohio public health officials said there's a case in their state.

I figure it's just a matter of time before there are confirmed cases here in Minnesota.

The good news is that nobody in America has died of this swine flu, so far.

Today North America, Tomorrow the World: Swine Flu Goes on Tour

Meanwhile, the CNN article says that possible swine flu cases have shown up in Canada and New Zealand. I'll be mildly surprised if this doesn't turn into a global pandemic. Quite a few people from all over the world pass through Mexico, and this disease seems to be rather effective at being transmitted.

Flu Pandemics: We've Been Through This Before

This year's swine flu is a case of 'been there, done that' for me. I remember the 1968: Hong Kong Flu pandemic. About 33,800 people died between September, 1968, and March, 1969, around the world. All in all, rather an anti-climax. It may have helped that the outbreak peaked at a time when many children were home from school, for holidays. Other possible reasons are the similarity of the Hong Kong flu of '68 to an Asian flu virus that made the rounds between 1957 and 1968: and medical technology that had improved since the Spanish Influenza pandemic of 1918.

The Spanish Influenza pandemic made an estimated 20 to 40 percent of humanity ill. Over 50,000,000 people died.

The 1976 Swine Flu Threat was what I'd call a near miss. I'd say it was a "false alarm:" except that people really did get sick in Fort Dix.

We've had other pandemics, in 1977 and 1997. And, I'm still here. So are most people who were around then. On the other hand, some people were killed by those diseases. (

Being Protected - and Maybe Overprotected

An interesting sidelight to the 20th century pandemics is the 'swine flu vaccine scare.' I remember that: the swine flu vaccine was associated with people getting Guillain-Barré syndrome (GBS). Sometimes GBS causes paralysis. Sometimes it doesn't. Either way, it's not something you'd want to have. So, because the "swine flu" virus used in the 1976 might have had something to do with all those people getting GBS (or might not - a link couldn't be established), "swine flu" virus hasn't been used since.

On the one hand, it's nice to know that the American medical/governmental system tries so hard to protect Americans from potentially harmful drugs. On the other hand, I have to wonder if America has become risk-averse.

List of posts relating to Swine flu 2009; and list of background resources:

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