There is some cause for worry in the current reports on the swine flu outbreak — while the possibility of a global pandemic is being raised, at this point it really is only a possibility. The accounts from Mexico are not reassuring, however.
Health officials reported that at least eight students at a private high school in New York City had “probable” swine flu. They also confirmed three new cases — two in Kansas and one in California — bringing the total number of confirmed U.S. cases to 11. The president of Mexico, where the outbreak has killed as many as 81 people, issued an order granting his government broad powers to isolate patients and question travelers. (…)
The virus, for which there is no vaccine for humans, has nearly brought Mexico City to a halt. Normally congested downtown streets in this city of 20 million were almost empty Saturday, and of the few people who ventured outside, many said they did so only out of necessity. Soldiers posted at subway stations handed out face masks to passersby from the back of armored vehicles. Some pedestrians covered their mouths and noses with scarves and rags.
Aetiology has an excellent summary that represents where we should be in our thinking right now — no need for panic, but it emphasizes the importance of research and monitoring.
In summary, this is a fast-developing story, and it will take much more investigation and field work to determine the true extent of the virus’s spread in the population; to figure out where it originated (one blog suggests a Mexican hog confinement according to some local Mexican papers, but that is conjecture at this point); how it jumped to humans; and how efficiently it’s transmitted. Whether this burns out or spreads worldwide, it certainly shows once again the importance of surveillance and monitoring of influenza strains, and demonstrates that improving our infrastructure due to concerns about H5N1 will benefit us whether that serotype, or another emergent strain, ends up being the next global influenza threat.
And if you want to keep track of the news yourself, the best place right now is Effect Measure, where Revere is giving regular updates from on informed perspective on the news and on emerging information from the CDC.