Thursday, April 30, 2009
The World Health Organization (WHO) this morning raised the alert level for the swine flu (H1N1 virus) outbreak to phase 5, its second-highest level. In a phrase: "Pandemic imminent."
The outbreak appears to have originated in or near Mexico City, where there have been at least 152 deaths thus far. It is worth noting that the deaths are reported to have been nominally-healthy individuals between the ages of 25 and 50. The working theory is that when the virus infects a body, the infected person's immune system reacts strongly. So strongly that it attacks and destroys healthy lung tissue as it fights off the virus. Subsequent infection then claims the victim. This theory offers an explanation as to why those people that would seem to be least at risk (those between the ages of 25 and 50, with robust immune systems) seem to be most adversely affected.
The virus is spreading with all the rapidity one would expect in this linked-up global civilization. As of this writing, there are 92 confirmed cases in eleven states in the US. That number will undoubtedly be obsolete by the time I finish writing this post. There are also reports of cases in Canada, Australia, New Zealand and across Europe and Asia.
The spread puts to rest any quaint notions promoted by health officials of the possibility of containment. They used to throw that term around back in the day, just a few years ago, when bird flu was the scare. It seemed like a pipe dream then, and it seems even more so now. The reality is that, in today's world of supersonic jet travel and a world population that is constantly in motion, there is no such thing as containment.
We're all in this together.
So, before things get really crazy (if they do get crazy... we'll have to wait and see), before this thing causes people to start panicking or finding someone to blame or looting grocery stores, I want to take a moment and recall the short life of a 2 year-old boy from Mexico who last week went with his family to Brownsville, Texas to visit relatives.
The name of this little boy is not public knowledge. But we can assume that he had people around him who loved him. We can assume that he was, like most two-year-olds, beautiful and innocent and mostly kind. We can assume that he had the potential to greatness that is inherent in all human beings. And we can assume that when he came down with flu symptoms, his family was worried sick. When he didn't respond to treatments, they flew him to Houston.
And there he died. An unnamed 2-year-old Mexican boy. The first swine flu fatality in the United States.