On Friday, August 28th, Dr. Paul Byers Jackson’s district health officer from the Mississippi State Department of Health gave a brief seminar to students from Belhaven College about the Novel H1-N1 “Swine” Flu, the flu that everyone’s been shooting pigs and freaking out over.
Swine flu is one of those handy viruses that can only be spread by person-to-person transmission, via those handy-dandy globules of spit, mucous, and germ that spray from the mouth during coughing and sneezing. So you don’t get it from eating pigs, and it’s not in an airborne cloud surrounding the sick. Also, it has to get in your face to be effective – so if you can stop rubbing your eyes, nose, and mouth (difficult when you’re rubbing your goatee and gloating) you can help yourself out a lot, there. Oh, and of course, you can wash your hands. I always think it’s kinda amusing to see health care professionals admonishing people to wash their hands. Or eat their fruits and vegetables. Or exercise. You’d think that this sort of thing would have settled into the background of “general common sense.” Of course, common sense is neither.
One of the points that was stressed during the meeting was that the death toll, infection rate, spread, and mutability do not seem to be any greater than your average flu season. Of course, since your average flu season kills approximately 36 thousand people in the United States, it’s nothing to sneeze at. In fact, please don’t sneeze at it.
Something that IS different about this strain is the age of people who become infected. Usually, the flu strikes those in the 50+ age bracket. This flu, however, is more common in the 0-24 year old demographic. Students are highly susceptible, but we all know to stay away from students, don’t we?
Unfortunately, the highest death rate is amongst the youngest patients. And the virus is showing a remarkable resistance to the flu medication oseltamivir – aka “Tamiflu.” Most type-A flu does in fact show this resistance, according to Dr. Byers, the resistance in H1N1 types was nearing 100%. Does this mean you should panic, lock the house up, and start getting your shotgun shells ready for the inevitable zombie hordes?
No. Well, you should always be ready for zombie hordes, but they’re not going to be coming out of the flu. Dr. Byers isn’t the only one educating people on the flu (and doing a good job) but there’s certainly plenty of people out there who aren’t helping. Of course, in Mississippi, we may not be getting the discussions of the future, but we have done a slightly better job than some places when it comes to being a little bit common sense, and doubtlessly folks like Dr. Byers and all our skeptical readers are doing their bit to help.
Can we do more? Absolutely. After the talk, Dr. Byers had a few things to say about the anti-vaccine indignation, and thanked us for being realistic on this issue. Apparently, the folks at the health department feel it’s an issue somewhat akin to beating their heads against wall, and Dr. Byers said that the person I should talk to was the head epidemiologist, Dr. Mary Currier. So I did exactly that.
Dr. Currier was quite surprised to even receive a rational email about the vaccine mess. Apparently, most of the correspondence about this subject is less than knowledgeable. One of my favorite bits:
The self interest of the anti-vaccine gurus is
incredible, and it’s amazing that their self interest is not visible to
their followers… Thank you so much for writing – it is heartening to read a rational
Well that’s what we’re here for – being rational.
P.S: This just in. There’s a great article on swine flu vaccine fearmongering just up on Science Based Medicine.