In my last post I made the mistake of asserting that swine flu was not yet contagious between humans – that’s not true and it’s why the disease is being taken seriously by the health community. I think it is important to recognize that the reason we can snark about the public paranoia about swine flu is precisely because of the government response. I am strongly asserting that there’s no reason for panic or concern among ordinary folk; I am not asserting that the government is “over-reacting” or otherwise engaged in hype or whatnot.
As with all things, of course, swine flu is already politicized – see here, here and here if you can stomach it. I don’t have much to comment on that, aside from simply noting that the acting chief of HHS (a Bush appointee) is qualified to do the job, so the delayed confirmation of Sebelius for HHS is not a factor in the public health response. The procedures for preparation for pandemics date from 9-11 and were substantially revised after the SARS outbreak a few years ago, so things really are under control.
The swine flu craziness is not limited to the usual political arena, though. Governments are getting in on the act, too – for example, Israel is mandating it be called “Mexico Flu” instead of “swine flu” because the latter is not kosher. Seriously. Meanwhile, Indonesia is playing the “Western oppression” card:
Falling short of elaboration, Indonesian Health Minister Siti Fadilah Supari said on Tuesday that the deadly swine flu virus could have been genetically engineered. She had earlier accused Western governments of making and spreading viruses in developing countries to boost pharmaceutical companies’ profits.
Since 2006, Indonesia has refused to share all of its bird flu virus samples with WHO researchers, citing fears that the system is being abused by rich countries to produce profitable vaccines, which impoverished nations have to buy.
The fact that the new virus causing an avian-human-swine flu first occurred in Mexico — where pigs and birds are rarely raised together — has also raised suspicion that the rare combination of more than two different flu viruses could have been genetically-engineered as a form of bio-weaponry.
They do have a point beneath the crazy, though – rich Western nations should indeed partially subsidize the cost of vaccines to poorer ones. There was a plan back in 2006 by the G-8 countries to try and address the problem but that fell through; hopefully this is something that can be revisited. As far as the flu being a bio-weapon, though, well, shhh….
Worth reiterating – related and highly recommended: interview this morning of Dr. Dennis Maki, senior epidemiologist at the University of Wisconsin, by Joy Cardin on WPR. Also here’s the official page at the CDC for latest info on swine flu outbreaks. Finally, see Rabbi Brad’s comment on the kosherification of the flu in Israel.