Blog on the Run: Reloaded

Monday, August 10, 2009 8:23 pm

Get your swine-flu vaccine early …

… although it might already be too late, revere says, adding that swine flu

… started late in the flu season. We’re not sure when, exactly, but probably in March sometime. Because there was no natural immunity in the population and in other respects the virus transmitted with the facility of seasonal flu, it could spread pretty fast and widely before whatever factors involved in flu’s seasonal forcing lowered transmission to the point it started to subside. It’s true it is not subsiding everywhere but it is subsiding in many places in the north. However it is not the fact it is subsiding but the reasons why it is subsiding that are important. If it is starting to wane because it had burned itself out by using up the [people who are susceptible to the disease], that would suggest next year wouldn’t be so bad. But in fact, while there was a lot of flu around, most people didn’t get it. If it is subsiding it is probably because whatever is involved in the seasonal forcing of flu (and we don’t really know what that is) has started to cut it short before the “tinder” of susceptibles was used up. Everyone expected this to happen when the summer came and the fact it didn’t happen right away was a surprise. It suggests this virus is quite transmissible and combined with the lack of immunity could overcome the extra push to transmissibility the seasonal forcing gives it. But it looks to be subsiding now. When the forcing starts again in the fall all the makings will be there for an early and big flu season if the threshold for it is exceeded. I feel pretty confident there are plenty of susceptibles around for the virus. …

I would dearly like to be wrong about this and making any prediction about flu is undoubtedly stupid. Doing so on the basis of a mathematical model may be even more foolhardy. But sometimes you just go on scientific hunches, and my hunch is that Stone et al. [link added from elsewhere in this piece — Lex] have this pegged right, even if they didn’t intend it for this flu. We’ll just have to see. But meanwhile, I’d keep your seat belts fastened because I see evidence of turbulence ahead.

Just remember, even regular flu can be a big problem: Seasonal flu kills roughly 35,000 Americans every year and hospitalizes another 200,000. If you can get a flu shot, get it and get it early. Swine flu likely will be a different vaccine from this year’s seasonal flu (and, I think I read somewhere, might require two injections a couple of weeks apart), but you need to get that as well if you can. Not only will you be keeping yourself healthy, you’ll be helping to prevent the spread of flu.


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