Homeland Security Watch

News and analysis of critical issues in homeland security

April 24, 2009

Swine flu: sprinting to tackle a viral end run

Filed under: Biosecurity — by Philip J. Palin on April 24, 2009

SECOND UPDATE (1:01 pm eastern): “Mexican officials, scrambling to control a swine flu outbreak that has killed at least 16 people and possibly dozens more in recent weeks, shuttered schools from kindergarten to university for millions of young people in and around the capital on Friday and urged people with flu symptoms to stay home from work,” according to the New York Times.

UPDATE (9:30 am eastern): “The World Health Organisation (WHO) voiced concern on Friday at a confirmed outbreak of swine flu in the United States and what it called more than 800 human “influenza-like” cases in Mexico, including about 60 deaths,” according to Reuters.

The diagnosis of at least seven cases of swine flu in the United States (reported here yesterday) has public health authorities moving quickly to assess and contain the surprising emergence of the disease.

Concern increased overnight as the possibility emerged of an hither-to unexplained Mexican pattern of respiratory failure that has killed thirteen.   According to Bloomberg, “Disease trackers are trying to determine whether a previously unseen strain of influenza in the U.S. is related to more than 130 cases of severe respiratory illness in Mexico and may spark a pandemic. A new variant of H1N1 swine influenza has sickened at least seven patients in California and Texas, the Centers for Disease Control and Preventionin Atlanta said yesterday. Mexico’s Health Minister Jose Cordova canceled classes in the capital today and recommended citizens avoid public places after 20 fatalities from an illness possibly caused by an H1N1 flu virus.”

The Center for Infectious Disease Research and Policy at the University of Minnesota  asked Peter Sandman, PhD, a risk communication consultant based in Princeton, N.J., to listen in on Thursday’s CDC teleconference.   Lisa Schnirring writes, “While he credited the CDC with getting a clear, calm, and concise scientific message out about the swine flu cases, he said they missed a teachable moment to promote pandemic preparedness. ‘Everyone needs to learn how to say ‘This could be bad, and it’s a good reason the take precautions and prepare’ and ‘This could fizzle out,’” Sandman said. ‘They need to simultaneously say both statements.” He added that “good risk communicators need to know how to be both scary and tentative.’”

Reuters has developed a short overview of influenza virus and swine flu in particular.  The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention has developed a more detailed overview of swine flu.

The CDC has established a website where it will post updates to its findings: http://www.cdc.gov/flu/swine/investigation.htm

For several years pandemic defenses– or at least media reports on the defense — have focused mostly of the H5N1 virus of avian flu.  Two more human cases of avian flu were reported this week in EgyptToo early to tell if we are dealing with a quarterback fake or a whole different game.

EDITORIAL NOTE: For a prescient strategic take on this urgently unfolding issue, please read and listen — again — to the  Tuesday post and comment by Chris Bellavita, Craig Baldwin, William Cumming, and (indirectly) Nathan Wolfe: http://www.hlswatch.com/2009/04/21/a-way-to-prevent-a-pandemic-decades-before-it-starts/#comments

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2 Comments »

Comment by William R. Cumming

April 24, 2009 @ 7:53 am

Very interesting post! What is of concern is whether and when CDC or HHS or FEMA or WHO decides to issue what are called PAR’s (Protective Action Recommendations). A highly technical area of Emergency Public Information (not to ever be confused with the normal counter-propaganda efforts of most Public Affairs Offices) this arena calls for the most highly trained and qualified people (usually a multi-discplinary task force similar to JIC operations in diasters yet different) that decides how to best protect the public. Would be interesting to record how Mexican officials learned of the problem (Was it from WHO the US or whatever?) and decided to issue the close classroom PAR. To my knowledge fewer than 2 dozen people in the entire US are really expert on this subject and most of the research was conducted by experts like Dr. Daniel Mileti, PhD (sociology) in research largely paid for by Uncle Sugar in the era before the rise of 24/7 and 365 day a year news cycle and the White House becoming the centralized nerve center for EPI (a big mistake in my judgment). Hoping for the best as always. When it really gets technical is when disease vectors are combined with other environmental hazards.

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May 1, 2009 @ 6:50 am

[...] morning this blog led with: Swine flu: sprinting to tackle a viral end-run.  If the Washington Post is accurate, Friday morning readers of Homeland Security Watch were [...]

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