Sunday, April 26, 2009

White House declares "public health emergency" over swine flu

The White House has held a press conference to announce “national public health emergency” over swine flu, with an announcement from Homeland Security secretary Janet Napolitano. She characterized this as a “standard operation procedure” to free up resources, and it does not by itself authorize quarantines or travel advisories or restrictions. Normally that authority rests with state and local authorities.

So far, as of noon Sunday, there are twenty cases in the United States, none severe. The cases so far are milder than most of those of a normal winter flu season. The number of cases is likely to rise quickly. The underlying concern relates to the severity in Mexico, with 81 deaths out of 1300 cases. Travelers returning from Mexico will be asked health questions by border agents.

The MSNBC/AP story is here.

Mexico has suddenly banned public gatherings and reportedly shut down most public places. Mexico is also warning “no kissing.”

My overall impression about all of this is – overreaction. There are new viruses all the time. Most people recover from them without difficulty. In the past we wouldn’t have noticed this.

How about some common sense (especially you "conservatives")?

Another observation is that viruses that originate with animals often become weaker rapidly as they are transmitted among people. The best result for public health might be to do nothing -- let the population become exposed to some swine flu proteins with mild illness, and build up "herd immunity" in the general population through gradual exposure to the antigens. That might prevent a more serious outbreak next winter, especially since this is the end of the flu contagion season now. You can't contain something like this completely.

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