The scare of the Influenza A/H1N1 type that goes around the world is parallelled only by the scare in 2004 about the avian flu. That time the situation was actually scarier because of the aggressiveness and severity of the infection in humans in those cases that got infected. The fear that H5N1 would cross with another strain, say the ordinary Hong Kong flu and create something potent and lethal that easily transmits between people was real however.
But this time it is a little bit different. Out of 77 deaths in Mexico health officials have found only 2 deaths related to the actual Influenza A/H1N1 strain. In countries outside Mexico the infections does not seem to be that severe and although influenza is always a nasty business people are recovering and in many cases it seems to be no workse than the yearly influenza that hits us, usually from Asia and the type that the elderly and infirm is recommended to get influenza inoculation shots for.
The swine flu name is actually a misnomer since the current strain that everyone is watching is not normally found among pigs (but pigs may become infected just like humans may). It is a new strain and right now it is thought that ”patient zero” has been found in Mexico a small boy who apparently got infected with more than one flu at the same time and the new hybrid was born, infecting people around him and so on.
People in different parts of the world are responding in different ways most of these more drastic actions are based in religious superstition and fear. In the Islamic faith the pig is viewed as an unclean animal. Most Muslims do therefore not eat pork in any form and even in the old testament it is written that pigs are not fit as food for people.
Recently in Egypt, a predominately Muslim country where 90% of the population are osbserving and confessing Sunni Muslims and the remaining population mainly Coptic Christians (and many observes the prohibition against eating the flesh of swine) and what happens?
The government decided to cull some 250 000 pigs as a response in an insane strike against – you guessed it – swine flu. It was not until WHO came out in the open and recommended everyone to stop using the name ”swine flu” that officials in Egypt came forward and said they only used the swine flu as an excuse to rid the country of ”disorderly pig rearing”.
Here in Sweden we see other responses equally based in fear and superstition as the Egyptian decision to cull all pigs, one is to spend money on starting to build vaccine factories and similar. The point here is that it takes between 3-9 months to find a effective vaccine and normally we have that kind of warning before influenza strikes, but this time a strain like this may be far more complex to beat and the influenza would be over us already before the vaccine could have been developed. And there are no ”fit all” vaccines, they have to be tailored specifically for each strain. By the time the vaccine is out this scare is probably over already.
Sweden has a contract with one of the biggest makersof vaccine, Glaxo Smithkline that allow us access to 18 million doses of flu vaccine in case a world wide outbreak should hit us in the coming years.