swine flu: Page 1
100,000 in U.S. have swine flu; youth hospitalization rate "very unusual". Would border security have reduced spread? - 05/19/09
On a conference call yesterday, the Centers of Disease Control said that around 100,000 people in the U.S. are infected with the swine flu (link). While it's currently a mild disease, it's affecting more young people than usual, with Dr. Anne Schuchat saying:
"That's very unusual, to have so many people under 20 to require hospitalization, and some of them in (intensive care units)... We are now experiencing levels of influenza-like illness that are higher than usual for this time of year... We are also seeing outbreaks in schools, which is extremely unusual for this time of year."
We'll never know whether its spread could have been halted or reduced if common sense precautions had been taken. For instance, a school in New York City that was the site of an initial outbreak later held a public event of some kind. And, aside from Joe Biden, government officials have worked to downplay the possibility of a major outbreak, with Matron Barack Obama simply telling people to wash their hands and with Janet Napolitano and the leadership of the Department of Homeland Security nearly failing to do their job and protect our borders.
Dr. John Carlo is withholding public health information about swine flu (Dallas County medical director) - 05/05/09
In other words, Carlo is withholding potentially vital information about the source of a potential public health emergency. If some or many of those who are infected in Dallas are visitors or illegal aliens from Mexico, the public has a right to know so that they can contact their elected officials and urge them to take action: greater inspection of those entering the U.S. or an increase in attempts to block illegal immigration. Being politically correct is more important to Carlo than giving citizens the information they need.
I contacted Dallas County Health & Human Services director Zachary Thompson and asked him to comment on the article; this was his only reply:
DCHHS has no comment on the article.
You can get his contact information at dallascounty.org/department/hhservices if you'd like to politely let him know what you think.
Mexico's chief epidemiologist (Dr. Miguel Angel Lezana, director of the National Epidemiology Center) accused the World Health Organization of being slow to respond to the country's warning about a health crisis that turned into a global swine flu scare and called for an investigation.
[He] told The Associated Press late Thursday his center alerted the Pan American Health Organization on April 16 about alarming occurrences of flu and atypical pneumonia in Mexico. But no action was taken until eight days later when the World Health Organization said it was "very, very concerned" the outbreak could grow into a pandemic...
PAHO spokesman Daniel Epstein confirmed to The Washington Post that the agency got a message from Mexican authorities on April 16 about an unusual disease outbreak.
Epstein, who is with PAHO's Washington office, told the newspaper that it was impossible for authorities in Geneva not to have learned of the unusual outbreak at the same time, describing a system that sends messages through to WHO headquarters automatically.
Low-wattage radio, TV hosts say dumb things about Mexicans and swine flu; leftwing attacks in order to support illegal activity - 04/30/09
Jason Linkins of the Huffington Post offers "Swine Flu A Mexican Immigrant Conspiracy: Conservative Media (VIDEO)" (huffingtonpost.com/2009/04/30/swine-flu-a-mexican-immig_n_193707.html), linking to a Media Matters for America video apparently containing instances of conservative radio and TV hosts discussing the issue of Mexicans
The deadly H1N1 influenza virus that’s fueling fears of a global pandemic is a hybrid of two common pig flu strains [North American and Eurasian pig flu], scientists who have studied the disease told Wired.com Tuesday. Earlier reports called it a combination of pig, human and avian influenza strains...
"The new neuraminidase gene that came in from Eurasian swine is one we’ve never before seen circulating in humans," said [Andrew Rambaut, a University of Edinburgh viral geneticist]. "That’s one of the reasons it’s spreading rapidly. Very few people will have any immunity to this particular combination, which is what gives the concern that this will be a pandemic rather than just a normal seasonal flu outbreak. It remains to be seen how much and to what extent there is existing immunity."
John McCain calls for closing the Mexican border over swine flu, but only "if it would prevent further transmission" - 04/29/09
When even John McCain calls to close the Mexican border over the potential swine flu pandemic, you know it's serious. Except, he left himself an out indicating that he might just be blowing smoke (link):
"At the same time, many questions still remain, including the question of why the cases of the H1N1 influenza in Mexico appear to be more severe and deadly than the cases seen in the U.S. I continue to believe that all available options to end this crisis must remain under consideration, including closing the border if it would prevent further transmission of this deadly virus."
Level 6 would be a full pandemic. Level 5 is the second highest and means that the swine flu is in imminent danger of becoming a pandemic. From this:
Raising the threat to level 5 means that there is sustained human to human spread in at least two countries and that people who have not visited Mexico have fallen ill and passed on the virus... ...Robert Madelin, Director General for Health and Consumer Protection at the European Commission, said: "In 200 days we will have an anti-viral vaccine for this influenza."
In other news, a Mexican toddler who'd travelled to Texas legally with his parents was the first U.S. death (link). And, a group of illegal immigration opponents are urging Congress to shut down the border (link).
UPDATE: There's more on the child who died here. They're trying to pinpoint where he contracted the disease; it might have been in Houston but there's some uncertainty about where they were when. See the swine flu entries for more on this topic, including Obama's complete failure to take border security - regarding both ill visitors and illegal aliens - seriously.
UPDATE 2: There's a Google map showing cases here; who maintains it and whether it includes all cases isn't known.
Napolitano: swine flu can be spread by infected visitors, but closing the border won't contain the virus; says actively questioning visitors - 04/29/09
...As infected travelers can lead to the spread of this virus, DHS is taking a number of precautions in light of the scope and nature of the threat... The actions we are taking regarding international travelers match the precautions advised by the CDC and the World Health Organization (WHO) based on the current, evolving epidemiology of the 2009 H1N1 flu virus. According to both the CDC and WHO, closing the border would yield only very marginal benefits; at the same time, closing the border has very high costs. The strain of the this virus that was first detected in Mexico is already present throughout the United States, and there is no realistic opportunity to contain the virus through border closures, so our focus must now be on mitigating the virus. The actions we are currently taking, as well as the travel advisories issued by the CDC and the State Department against non-essential travel to Mexico, should help to mitigate the number of people infected with 2009 H1N1 flu crossing the border.
Those would seem to be in conflict. During the questioning (link):
Napolitano said that "passive surveillance" is "not an accurate picture of what is going on" at U.S. entry points. She had used that term Tuesday morning to describe the nature of the monitoring for illness.
On Wednesday, Napolitano said that U.S. officials are "actively" questioning visitors at the border, asking questions about "whether they are ill, their travel history and the like."
Napolitano, Vilsack: call it the "H1N1 virus", not "swine flu". More concerned about pork industry than public safety - 04/28/09
Janet Napolitano of the Department of Homeland Security and Tom Vilsack of the Department of Agriculture want us to call swine flu the "H1N1 virus" instead (link). They have somewhat of a point: if you really can't get it from eating pork then perhaps we should grit our teeth and not wish for the demise of the pork industry. The problem is that while they're rushing to the aid of pork producers, they're keeping the borders as open as ever.
"This is not a food-borne illness, virus. It is not correct to refer to it as swine flu because really that's not what this is about."
Per Centers for Disease Control and Prevention acting director Richard Besser:
"That's not helpful to pork producers. That's not helpful to people who eat pork. It's not helpful to people who are wondering, how can they get this infection,"
Israel wants to call it the "Mexico flu". Another group wants to call it the "North American flu". We'll call it the swine flu.
U.S. airport officials and border agents waved people through Monday with little or no additional screening for Mexico’s deadly swine flu - a far more muted reaction than the extreme caution elsewhere around the world.
At the main pedestrian border crossing between El Paso and Mexico’s Ciudad Juarez, a handful of people wore protective masks and officials handed out a swine flu flier.
But there were no extra screenings for swine flu, and it mostly looked like a typical day at the border. Faced with a new and unforeseen threat, people entering the country who said they felt unwell were questioned about their symptoms. But there were no reports of anyone refused entry.
It might be a good time for the House Republicans to drop everything else and pass an emergency resolution demanding that Janet Napolitano starts taking the threat of a flu pandemic seriously. While the article mentions that "millions of doses of flu-fighting medicine from a federal stockpile" are being sent to border states, we also need to minimize the chances of the flu being spread far and wide in the U.S. The way to do that is to a) actually do something about illegal immigration, and b) more closely monitor who enters the country through ports of entry.
Janet Napolitano refuses to close or even tightly secure the border despite health risks (+Eric Massa) - 04/27/09
Rep. Eric Massa - Democrat of New York state - is calling for the Mexican border to be closed. Meanwhile, Janet Napolitano of the Department of Homeland Security is refusing to close the border and does not appear to fully appreciate the risks of a loose border during a pandemic. At a press conference today, she said:
"We're already doing passive surveillance at the border... You would close the border if you thought you could contain the spread of disease, but the disease already is in a number of states within the United States." ...Noting that those infected with swine flu may not show symptoms for a few days, Napolitano said border closure is "a very difficult judgment to make." ..."We are simply in preparation mode... We do not yet know how widespread this flu will be within the United States." ..."We believe at this level the appropriate precautions have been taken."
The disease is certainly already here, but if those who are ill now could be contained it might not spread as far and as rapidly. By allowing people to come here who might already be ill - or who might have the disease but not have symptoms - she's going to make the situation even worse. That's as irresponsible as those Mexicans entering the U.S. who refuse to wear masks. She has a 9/10 mindset motivated by some combination of corruption, political correctness, and personal knowledge that she'll be OK. Government workers on the border are already receiving anti-viral medications, and no doubt she is as well.
UPDATE: The New York Times offers "With Swine Flu Cases Rising, Borders Are Tightened" (link). The "borders" part refers to other countries; ours remain wide open even if we might be discouraging travel to Mexico. The World Health Organization doesn't want borders to be closed or a ban on travel but other countries are moving in that direction. Note that the WHO's director general is from the PRC (who.int/dg/chan/en/index.html).
And, the outbreak might have started in the area of a Smithfield pig farm in Mexico; link. Hundreds in one village got sick (or thought they were sick) and one of the original sufferers tested positive for swine flu.
Many Mexicans crossing into the United States on Monday at one of the busiest crossings on the border shunned advice to wear surgical face mask to curb the spread of a deadly new flu.
Most Mexican immigration officials at the Tijuana-San Diego crossing were using masks and surgical gloves, but Mexicans crossing by car and foot seemed unconcerned by the influenza scare and only a handful wore masks.
As flu pandemic threatens, Obama admin still doesn't have HHS Sec'y, Surgeon General, FDA head - 04/27/09
The Obama administration declared a “public health emergency” Sunday to confront the swine flu - but is heading into its first medical outbreak without a secretary of Health and Human Services or appointees in any of the department’s 19 key posts.
President Barack Obama has not yet chosen a surgeon general or the head of the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. His choice to run the Food and Drug Administration awaits confirmation.
Obama spokesman Robert Gibbs says no worries, there's a team in place running day-to-day operations: "I think it’s all hands on deck, and we’re doing fine."
John Nichols /The Nation pushes bogus flu pandemic preparedness issue; distraction from Obama admin, Dem failures - 04/27/09
John Nichols of The Nation offers "GOP Know-Nothings Fought Pandemic Preparedness" (link). Sens. Arlen Spector and Susan Collins fought the addition of around $900 million for flu pandemic preparedness to the stimulus plan. Now, Nichols is disreputably trying to tie that into the current possible flu crisis, and he's getting some help from his friends (link).
Yet, the issue is bogus for various reasons: neither Spector nor Collins oppose spending on preparedness, they just didn't want it in a bill that was supposedly about stimulating the economy rather than just about everything the Dems and Congress in general want to spend money on. There are general spending bills and narrowly-focused bills available for such purposes. Further, even as he bashes them, Ryan Powers of ThinkProgress quotes Collins and Spectors - both more friends of the Democrats than not - as in favor of spending money on preparedness. 
"All those little porky things that the House put in, the money for the [National] Mall or the sexually transmitted diseases or the flu pandemic, they're all out."
A slightly low-ball question for a Dem would involve reading that quote, getting the Dem to condemn it, and then pointing out who said it.
There might also be fiscal year and related funding issues here: even if money for preparedness had been in the stimulus bill, how much of it would have been disbursed by now? That would be a good question to ask someone pushing this line. And, those familiar with accounting issues might want to look into whether the current funding flows for preparedness are meeting the needs of the agencies involved.
And, if flu preparedness was such a vital issue to the Democrats - David Obey is presented as an oracle when it was much more likely that no such pandemic would surface - why weren't they banging on the table night and day demanding an emergency bill? That would be a good question to ask them: why didn't you raise this issue until now, why not two weeks ago when an emergency bill could have been rushed through?
Another good question to ask is why isn't Janet Napolitano willing to greatly ramp up border security to prevent sick people - including those who are infected but not visibly sick - crossing our borders legally or illegally? Why wasn't the Obama administration closely monitoring the situation in Mexico from near the very start?
UPDATE: Collins says through her spokeswoman (link):
...Senator Collins has led hearings on pandemic flu preparedness, worked on “bioshield” legislation and funding, and helped strengthen our nation’s preparedness for a pandemic flu... Claims that she is opposed to increased funding for pandemic flu research are blatantly false and politically motivated. In fact, in December 2008, Senator Collins joined in a letter to Senate leaders requesting a $905 million increase for the Public Health and Social Services Emergency Fund at the Department of Health and Human Services... There is no evidence that federal efforts to address the swine flu outbreak have been hampered by a lack of funds.