Sunday, May 3, 2009

Should We Expose Everyone To The H1N1 Flu Virus Right Away?

I just read an article about the University of Pennsylvania's separate graduation for Education Majors who had done practice teaching in Mexico. The selflessness of the students who agreed to this was wonderful. They put the welfare of their classmates above their own desires to graduate together.

However, I am beginning to wonder if we shouldn't try to expose everyone possible to the H1N1 flu virus now, since this strain appears to be quite mild in the US, and in the world as a whole. That might well include Mexico, since Mexico has not revealed their full exposure, only the deaths, so it could have been a mild flu there too. That is beginning to appear increasingly likely.

When the N1H1 virus returns to the northern hemisphere during our usual flu season around next October, it might have mutated in countries in the southern hemisphere to a more virulent form, possibly via transmission to and from an animal vector. Having been exposed previously to a milder form could then prove to be a blessing.

In an article in the Dallas morning News titled John M. Barry: What's next for swine flu? John M. Barry points out: "What's important to keep in mind in assessing the threat of the current outbreak is that all four of the well-known pandemics seem to have come in waves. The 1918 virus surfaced by March and set in motion a spring and summer wave that hit some communities and skipped others. This first wave was extremely mild, more so even than ordinary influenza: Of the 10,313 sailors in the British Grand Fleet who became ill, for example, only four died. But autumn brought a second, more lethal wave, which was followed by a less severe third wave in early 1919."

"The first wave in 1918 was relatively mild, many experts speculate, because the virus had not fully adapted to humans. And as it did adapt, it also became more lethal. However, there is very good evidence that people who were exposed during the first wave developed immunity – much as people get protection from a modern vaccine."

Later in his article, Barry points out:
"In all four instances, the gap between the time the virus was first recognized and a second, more dangerous wave swelled was about six months. It will take a minimum of four months to produce vaccine in any volume, possibly longer, and much longer than that to produce enough vaccine to protect most Americans. The race has begun."

That might argue for the wisdom of encouraging exposure to this "first wave."

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