Flu frenzy

The Science in Society blog has posted a response to recent swine flu news, putting it in perspective with previous flu pandemics. Here is a piece comparing flu intervention in 1918 and today. An excerpt:

Just how important is starting countermeasures early, and what kind of interventions work? The tragedy of the Spanish flu provides a natural laboratory for public health measures, as cities throughout the US differed both in scale and timing of their interventions.

Medical science in 1918 was still getting on its feet. The majority of older physicians of the time were not educated under the scientific regimen of the Flexnerian revolution. The leading bacteriologists of the day mistakenly believed that influenza was a bacterial disease, and it was not until 1943 when it was recognized that a virus was responsible. As a result, medical intervention in the pandemic was of questionable value, not least because most of the best doctors had been drafted to serve in the military for WWI.

However, nonmedical interventions were also employed. These included quarantines, isolation of the sick in makeshift wards, closure of public gathering places such as churches and schools. Quick action (as measured by when flu cases rose to double the baseline number of cases) had a strong correlation with reduced mortality, and that maintaining the measures was important to keep the disease from spreading.

St. Louis, for example, closed schools and canceled public gatherings early, and maintained quarantines for over ten weeks, leading to a significantly lower mortality rate. However, not all cities were as proactive; the median duration of these interventions was only four weeks, insufficient to protect the population. Some cities were even counterproductive: Philadelphia hosted a military parade to promote war bonds, over the objections of numerous doctors and public health officials. Soon afterwards, it became one of the hardest-hit cities in the US.

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bird flu now pig flu

All you would hear on the news is bird flu for such a long time, everyone worrying about new strands. I never even heard of pig flu until last week. I'm curious how many other types of animals carry flues that could potentially turn into human strands.

That article is wild, stating that the Spanish flu was responsible for the death of 10% of the worldwide youth population.