03 August 2009

The flu

I haven't written about the influenza A(H1N1) epidemic in Argentina. Everyone else has, though, so I'll leave it at that. For me, it had its good and bad sides. The good side was that children and teenagers cleared the streets, buses, and other public venues for us grownups, leaving us room to enjoy our city without being bumped into,  or bombarded with trashy music out of MP3 players. Oh, some people died. Not many, certainly an insignificant number compared to the people who die of other preventable diseases or in traffic accidents caused by drivers' carelessness. Several acquaintances of mine fell with the flu, but it was nothing serious.

The bad side was the hysteria and the paranoia. I'm sure you've seen your share of this. What happens here is that as soon as, let's say, an outbreak of a disease is announced, society divides itself into two main groups: those who panic, go to ridiculous extremes to protect themselves, and generally bother the rest of us, and those who just dismiss it all as an invention of the government, the media, or both to make us forget of the really important matters, and place the rest of us at risk because of their carelessness. You may have noticed there's a third group, what I've called "the rest of us" — make of that what you want.

As the first wave of the flu subsided, many people have started to forget the cautionary measures against contagion. This may or may not be OK. Others continue to be hysterical, in both the usual and the figurative meaning: they remain fearful and paranoid, and they're very funny — tending towards the "pathetic" kind of funny. At work, I've had perfectly healthy people, who usually offered me their cheek to kiss every morning, refuse to come even close to me. During the initial phase of the epidemic, one of my co-workers first became very agitated, then tried to force her daughter's school to shut down, and then basically locked her up at home (this was a few days before the Ministry of Education finally decided to shut down the schools). There's still alcohol gel everywhere, and by the looks of it, some people think it's an all-powerful, virus-proof barrier against the flu.

The cold, and with it the flu, will be gone in less than two months. I can't wait to tell you about the upcoming dengue epidemic...


  1. The cold, and with it the flu will be gone in less than two months.

    I think not. The situation in the US demonstrates that the current A/H1N1 virus does not follow the usual seasonal cycle. In fact, all the cases in the US have occurred to date in the warmer months.

    The CDC is expecting a surge of new cases in the US after students return to school in a month after summer break, instead of the "normal" influenza season that begins in October/November.

    Since Argentine students have just returned to school, and some of the closed government offices are reopening, it will soon be apparent if there will be a similar situation.

    It appears that the Argentine strain of the virus is virtually identical to that in the US, so that cannot explain why Argentina has the highest mortality per capita in the world.

    It has been reported that a larger number of Argentine virus isolates are currently being sequenced in collaboration with an academic lab in the US, and the entire genome sequences should be available shortly.

    Of epidemiologic interest is why there have been so many deaths in Argentina. Last week there were reports in the Argentine press that the actual number of deaths may have exceeded that of the US, since apparently there were many fatal flu-like cases in BsAs early in the epidemic that were not tested.

    Although the number of deaths is small compared to those that die in a normal influenza season, the infectivity of the current H1N1 strain, and any mutation/recombination that might occur is very worrying.

    The deaths that have occurred from the current strain appear to favor individuals with compromised health. If the virus mutates to a strain similar to that of 1918, a widespread mortality of young adults via a cytokine storm could ensue. Being healthy with a strong immune system becomes a liability.

  2. Mike09:18

    Much is unknown about how this flu strain will evolve so sensational predictions seem pointless, but studies suggest that older people are less susceptible, as they were exposed to similar strains in the 1950's. Also, maybe the widespread flu immunizations in the US, which seem to diminish the severity of all flu infections and not just the strain vaccinated, are not as common in Argentina. The worldwide panic so far has been unwarranted and a vaccine is well underway and should be available for the US flu season.


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