Even as the story fades, the A(H1N1) flu epidemic is getting more interesting. But the plotlines are scattered so far and wide and of such relatively low impact individually that they masquerade as unalarming. Compiled, however, this drama continues to escalate:
- It's not a new flu at all. Probably been circulating undetected in the atrocities we call pig farms for years.
- World Health Organization chief Margaret Chan calls A(H1N1) a "subtle, sneaky" swine flu virus and urges developing countries to be prepared for more severe cases.
- The new strain needs monitoring in Asia, Africa and South America where the winter season is beginning. The fear is it will mix with seasonal flu and mutate.
- Meanwhile, other WHO officials admit that most developing countries can't detect or track seasonal flu let alone monitor a pandemic strain.
- With regards to kids: A study from the Mayo Clinic in Minnesota disputes the recommendations of the CDC and the American Academy of Pediatrics recommending annual flu vaccinations for all kids from 0.5 to 18 years old. The inactivated TIV flu vaccine is not effective in preventing influenza-related hospitalizations in children, especially asthmatic kids. In fact, kids who get the flu vaccine are more at risk for hospitalization than those who don't. These results aren't specific to A(H1N1) but they're worth noting in light of A(H1N1).
- US Health Secretary Kathleen Sebelius pledges $1 billion to develop key components for a swine flu vaccine and conduct clinical studies into its efficacy. Will they take into account the Mayo Clinic assessment of kids and vaccines?
- And then we're about to spend all this money just as we learn that people 60 and older have greater immunity to A(H1N1). These are the people most likely to be targeted with a new $1-billion vaccine they may not need.
- A(H1N1) is forcing health officials to rethink the way we classify epidemics and pandemics. It's acting pandemiclike—Japan's blossoming caseload, for example—yet it remains mild enough to avoid the designation. In other words, A(H1N1) is finding a clever and stealthy way to attack our preparedness.
So what are we going to do about those atrocious pig and chicken farms that are making our new diseases along with the bacon and buffalo wings? Farms isn't the right world, really. Can we call them concentration camps?