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Monday, April 27, 2009

swine_flu_rises2.jpg

Is Swine Flu 'The Big One' or a Flu That Fizzles?

Monday, April 27, 2009


A boy and girl in Mexico wear face masks as an outbreak of swine flu sweeps across the country

ATLANTA As reports of a unique form of swine flu erupt around the world, the inevitable question arises: Is this the big one?

Is this the next big global flu epidemic that public health experts have long anticipated and worried about? Is this the novel virus that will kill millions around the world, as pandemics did in 1918, 1957 and 1968?


The short answer is it's too soon to tell.

"What makes this so difficult is we may be somewhere between an important but yet still uneventful public health occurrence here with something that could literally die out over the next couple of weeks and never show up again or this could be the opening act of a full-fledged influenza pandemic," said Michael Osterholm, a prominent expert on global flu outbreaks with the University of Minnesota.

"We have no clue right now where we are between those two extremes. That's the problem," he said.

Health officials want to take every step to prevent an outbreak from spiraling into mass casualties. Predicting influenza is a dicey endeavor, with the U.S. government famously guessing wrong in 1976 about a swine flu pandemic that never materialized.

"The first lesson is anyone who tries to predict influenza often goes down in flames," said Dr. Richard Wenzel, the immediate past president of the International Society for Infectious Diseases.

But health officials are being asked to make such predictions, as panic began to set in over the weekend.


The epicenter was Mexico, where the virus is blamed for at least 100 deaths and an estimated 1,600 cases in the country since April 13. Schools were closed, church services canceled and Mexican President Felipe Calderon assumed new powers to isolate people infected with the swine flu virus.