Editorial : The flu, in real life
Vineyarders are unrivaled rumor mongers. Practiced in such dark arts, we are prey to the same confusion, unwarranted alarm, and misinformation that is common in the nation concerning the H1N1 virus and the newly made vaccine intended to defeat it. But, there are very good reasons to stand fast and hold a turn around the bit, as an old seadog of our acquaintance, now long over the bar, was fond of saying.
First, there is the big picture, which, while not exactly comforting, nevertheless rewards calm contemplation. Swine flu is certainly on the march, and we are seeing cases on the Island, though few in number. There will almost certainly be more, but for now this unique virus seems no more virulent than the annual winter flu we confront. If the swine flu's current patterns persist, fewer people will be hospitalized by the swine flu than has been the case each past winter with the annual influenza. Authoritative Centers for Disease Control data reveal that about 1,000 Americans have died of the swine flu so far, and about 20,000 have been hospitalized, but the annual flu generally sends 200,000 to the hospital and kills 36,000.
Swine flu vaccine doses are piling up and being distributed as quickly as possible. Still, it is all happening more slowly than the manufacturers may have projected. Quality controls have revealed that smaller amounts of vaccine that meets the effectiveness standards are developed in each incubating egg, so the manufacturing output has not met expectations. The federal government has consistently made unreliably optimistic statements about the availability and quantity of vaccine, and now the president has declared a national health emergency which, when misunderstood, contributes to a mood of uneasiness. But, given the swine flu's potency, as it reveals itself, it appears that the actual timetable for delivery of sufficient quantities of the swine flu vaccine will meet the general need, and the growing quantities of vaccine will be timely to meet the needs of the several high-risk sub-groups in the population.
As to the emergency declaration, it is a pro-forma step that will free hospitals to make practical decisions on patient care, should they face large numbers of flu victims requiring in-patient care.
On-Island, as reports in this morning's Times make clear, efforts begun months ago to prepare for the winter flu season and for the threat of swine flu are well developed. The hospital will shortly begin to administer swine flu vaccine to the pre-school population, and physicians are preparing to give the vaccine to at-risk patients. The well-organized seasonal flu vaccine clinic planned for November 11 will serve Islanders who are familiar with flu vaccine protocols to guard against the seasonal flu.
Apart from vaccination, there is a great deal that you can do to guard against the swine flu. Islanders should take normal precautions, including washing hands, covering their coughs, and staying home from work or school when they're sick. It's not difficult, but in its way, it's good medicine.
Finally, in addition to the update of flu related information that appears in today's paper, The Times will monitor all of the several continuing on-Island efforts to prevent and treat both the seasonal and the swine flu. We will post the freshest, authoritative, and confirmed information as updates on the newspaper's website, mvtimes.com.