Thursday, April 30, 2009

The Year of The Swine

The Swine Flu panic is in full swing in our ED. Visits have increased 40% over the past two weeks. Everyone with a sniffle feels that they need an evaluation. Combine that with the fact that the past weekend was the worst in a decade for pollen and allergens in the area, and you can see the situation we are in. The director held a public news conference urging people not to come to the ED if at all possible. This statement was probably an EMTALA violation of some sort, but extraordinary times, I suppose. The media sensation is reaching fever pitch, but the flu itself seems to be reaching some sort of plateau at least. The only thing that worries me at this time is the fact that the 1918 Spanish flu appeared first in the spring, and was relatively mild. However, it reappeared in a more virulent form in the fall / winter of 1918 / 1919. It is interesting to note that world war one killed approximately 16 million people, and the flu epidemic that followed killed 40 million. The announcement today by the WHO that the flu would no longer be called "swine", despite the fact that the majority of the genes are indeed porcine, was ridiculous to say the least. I understand the honorable attempt to prevent senseless slaughter of pigs and further economic damage, but scientific authorities should act above the ignorance of other elements of society, rather than join them. To call the flu simply H1N1, is just like calling a Portuguese water dog simply a dog. It is a correct label, but not properly descriptive. Many Influenza viruses can be called H1N1.

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