With all the news abuzz about swine flu, it’s important to remember a few things. Influenza can be very, very dangerous, but it’s still just a virus, and one that we know quite well. There have been a number of flu pandemics in the last century, the most famous (and most deadly) being the “Spanish flu” of 1918-1919. That pandemic was a perfect storm. Soldiers moved back and forth between Europe and the U.S., and military bases in the U.S. weren’t much better than the Western Front. Soldiers on U.S. bases lived in crowded, cold, wet conditions, and the flu moved through them rapidly, spreading to surrounding civilian populations.
Our yearly flu season kills somewhere in the neighborhood of 35,000 Americans yearly. Most of those who die are very old, very young, or very sick. The Spanish flu epidemic was different. It struck down young, otherwise healthy people, and it killed them quickly.
So far we have very little data on the current flu outbreak. It does appear to be hitting healthier people, but it is far to early to make any judgments. We are far better prepared to handle a pandemic, should one emerge, than we were 90 years ago. Medicine has improved over time.
So,follow the news, don’t panic, and pay attention to the advice of local health authorities, if it should become relevant. At this point, most Americans don’t need to change a thing, other than paying more attention to the news.