“I guess everything has to have a name”

So said Texas pig-aficionado Kyle Stephens, regarding our new epidemic influenza strain.  Now, it appears, there is finally agreement upon what that name will be:  Influenza H1N1!  Both CDC and WHO have adopted this language.  A longer descriptive version for use in polite conversation is, “this new H1N1 of swine origin”.

So where are we now, with this new H1N1?  More states and countries report confirmed cases each day, and over 90% of new cases are no longer linked to other confirmed cases.  This means the virus is widespread in the community, there are many folks shedding virus with mild symptoms, and the time is approaching when we need to manage this like any late-season influenza epidemic.  Freaking out about each new case, asking people with mild-moderate symptoms to come in for testing, trying to trace contacts, all these exercises are increasingly futile.  We should focus instead upon community mitigation strategies that emphasize common sense infection control to limit spread (hand hygiene, “respiratory etiquette”, staying home when sick), and prophylaxis of those at high risk for complications of influenza who have been (or are likely to be) exposed. 

I’m sticking with my earlier prediction that this will amount to a notable late-season epidemic that will burn itself out over the next few weeks, causing a lot of cases and some deaths, but that will not become the great global pandemic of 2009.  Others concur (but “quietly”, so as not to be seen taking this too lightly!).


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