NCPA - National Center for Policy Analysis


April 30, 2009

The swine flu outbreak in Mexico is disturbing, and fears of a pandemic are justified.  But the best advice on Monday came from President Barack Obama, says the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel.  "This is obviously the cause for concern and requires a heightened state of alert," Obama noted.  "But it's not a cause for alarm."

  • As of Monday afternoon, swine flu was believed to have killed 149 people in Mexico and sickened more than 1,600.
  • There have been at least 40 cases in the United States, including 28 at a high school in New York City.
  • Dr. Richard Besser, acting director of the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention in Atlanta, warned that more cases are likely in the United States and that deaths were possible.
  • The CDC recommended that people avoid non-essential travel to Mexico, and U.S. officials stepped up screening at airports to spot people returning from there who are ill.

The outbreak in Mexico recalled the horrific worldwide pandemic that killed 50 million at the close of World War I and sickened millions more.  But this is not 1918. In the 91 years since those terrible days, the understanding of infectious diseases has grown far more sophisticated, says the Journal Sentinel:

  • Doctors now can employ antiviral drugs not then available as well as antibiotics.
  • The United States has 50 million doses of antiviral drugs stockpiled.
  • In addition, communication is instantaneous today, which means information about the spread of the disease and how to avoid it can be transmitted quickly.
  • And doctors have far better equipment for treatment of the seriously ill, including mechanical ventilators.

This is a serious situation and alarming because so little is known, including whether the virus is mutating into a more lethal form.  But state and the local health departments appear to be well prepared if an outbreak occurs, says the Journal Sentinel.

Source: Editorial, "This is not 1918," Milwaukee Journal Sentinel, April 27, 2009.

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