Swine Flu: Rooting Out the Facts

After all the confusing information and hysterical speculation about swine flu that’s come out over the weekend, this morning’s BBC provides excellent basic take on where things stand. Will the outbreak be contained, or, as some medical experts fear, could it trigger the long-anticipated  pandemic?  Go to the BBC News home page—news.bbc.co.uk–for a general roundup plus detailed aspects of the situation, updated frequently.

Here are some excerpts from the BBC’s reporting:

H1N1 is the same strain which causes seasonal outbreaks of flu in humans on a regular basis. But this latest version of H1N1 is different: it contains genetic material that is typically found in strains of the virus that affect humans, birds and swine.

Flu viruses have the ability to swap genetic components with each other, and it seems likely that the new version of H1N1 resulted from a mixing of different versions of the virus, which may usually affect different species, in the same animal host.

1918: The Spanish flu pandemic remains the most devastating outbreak of modern times. Caused by a form of the H1N1 strain of flu, it is estimated that up to 40% of the world’s population were infected, and more than 50 million people died, with young adults particularly badly affected.

The World Health Organization has warned that taken together the Mexican and US cases could potentially trigger a global pandemic, and stress that the situation is serious.

However, experts say it is still too early to accurately assess the situation fully.

Currently, they say the world is closer to a flu pandemic than at any point since 1968 – rating the threat at three on a six-point scale.

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