The excellent blog H5N1 (now covering H1N1 as well, and all over it), points us to the New York Times for an op-ed by John M. Barry, author of the definitive history of the Spanish flu in the US: Where Will the Swine Flu Go Next? Excerpt:
As the swine flu threatens to become the next pandemic, the biggest questions are whether its transmission from human to human will be sustained and, if so, how virulent it might become.
But even if this virus were to peter out soon, there is a strong possibility it would only go underground, quietly continuing to infect some people while becoming better adapted to humans, and then explode around the world.
What happens next is chiefly up to the virus. But it is up to us to create a vaccine as quickly as possible.
Two weeks after the first known swine flu death, Mexico still hasn’t given medicine to the families of the dead. It hasn’t determined where the outbreak began or how it spread. And while the government urges anyone who feels sick to go to hospitals, feverish people complain ambulance workers are scared to pick them up.
A portrait is emerging of a slow and confused response by Mexico to the gathering swine flu epidemic. And that could mean the world is flying blind into a global health storm.
Despite an annual budget of more than $5 billion, Mexico’s health secretary said Monday that his agency hasn’t had the resources to visit the families of the dead. That means doctors haven’t begun treatment for the population most exposed to swine flu, and most apt to spread it.
It also means medical sleuths don’t know how the victims were infected — key to understanding how the epidemic began and how it can be contained.
Foreign health officials were hesitant Monday to speak critically about Mexico’s response, saying they want to wait until more details emerge before passing judgment. But already, Mexicans were questioning the government’s image of a country that has the crisis under control.
“Nobody believes the government any more,” said Edgar Rocha, a 28-year-old office messenger. He said the lack of information is sowing distrust: “You haven’t seen a single interview with the sick!”
The political consequences could be serious. China was heavily criticized during the outbreak of SARS for failing to release details about the disease, feeding rumours and fear. And Mexico’s failed response to a catastrophic 1985 earthquake is largely credited with the demise of the party that had ruled the country since the 1920s.
Expert says swine flu could spread faster than SARS, which would be bad, of course, if this thing is highly virulent.