As school let out for the summer, many of us who have been worried about Swine Flu breathed a sigh of relief. Schools, as you’ve read in this blog before, are amplifiers of germs, able to take one or a few cases of an infection and multiply them many-fold in a short period of time. Schools are at the heart of pandemic planning - and school closures are important tools in pandemic containment. We saw dozens of schools close in late spring as Swine Flu cases appeared. The spread of Swine Flu in the U.S. does appear to have slowed with the summer school break, but cases continue to appear – in summer camps, at the Air Force Academy, and in other high concentration areas of people.
Worldwide, this pandemic of influenza (it has been defined as a pandemic by the rapidity and breadth of spread) has continued to be quite strong – in numbers infected, if not in the severity of disease. Although there have been numerous deaths attributed to Swine Flu in the U.S. and around the world, those numbers are far fewer than in previous pandemics – this strain appears to be a milder one than the potent 1918 strain, for example. But this current strain does share certain worrisome characteristics with the 1918 strain, including its predilection for young adults and it’s tendency to affect the lungs.
The U.S. government has embarked on an ambitious vaccine program against Swine Flu, with the hope that a sizable proportion of the population will be immunized by October or November of 2009 – not in time for the restart of school, but hopefully in time to prevent the amplification (multiplication) that can occur with infections during the school year. The testing of the new Swine Flu vaccine is just beginning.
Importantly, everyone older than 6 months will also be urged to get immunized against the “regular” seasonal flu – that’s the vaccine that is tweaked every year, and recommended every year, to prevent the non-Swine flu cases of flu. Development of that “regular” seasonal flu vaccine is on schedule for this season, available late summer/early fall as usual.
Two flu vaccines this year for many of you. In the face of a potentially resurgent Swine Flu pandemic this fall, two vaccines are a good thing.