I'm trying to decide how concerned I should be about the potential swine flu (officially called H1N1) pandemic.
There's so many things to panic about -- the economy, global climate change, whether Jack Bauer is going to survive his exposure to a lethal bio agent and come back for another season of "24."
I've got to prioritize my anxieties. So where should swine flu reasonably place on a holy shit! list of potential freakouts?
I'd say, about halfway. Nearer the bottom at the moment; could rise considerably higher this fall and winter if H1N1 returns in a more virulent form.
Back in 2005 I got pretty worried about avian flu. My "Masks to protect against avian flu" post has been getting quite a bit of Google'ish attention recently. That scare petered out, which surely helps make many people suspect that the current swine flu excitement is similarly overblown.
Well, maybe. It's looking like the H1N1 strain is acting a lot like normal seasonal flu in the United States. However, that's no reason to relax.
Effect Measure is a good source of info on what's happening with the swine flu outbreak. It's "a forum for progressive public health discussion and argument."
One post talks about the overreaction overreaction. Meaning, we shouldn't overdo our reaction to what may seem to be excessive hype about a possible pandemic.
Another post notes that normal seasonal flu kills an estimated 30,000 people a year. Swine flu could be worse. Not because it is more virulent, but due to the fact that it's a new strain and nobody has resistance to it.
My suspicion, from what I've heard and read, is that swine/H1N1 flu isn't going to be a huge problem this spring and summer. Effective measures are being taken to limit its spread. Hopefully these will work.
But it might mutate into a more dangerous form, making next winter's flu season more worrisome than usual. Flu shots almost certainly will incorporate the H1N1 virus. If plenty are available, and most people get them, we should be OK.
Basic lesson, as pointed out by Effect Measure: government public health programs are important. Tax dollars spent in this area produce really useful (and lifesaving) results.