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Apr 22 2009

Swine Flu is back…

Published by at 7:10 pm under patient safety

CDC announced that there have been two cases of swine flu in San Diego County.  This is an interesting disease from several points of view:

It has a great name.  If it were called Iowa Flu, folks wouldn’t have gotten excited about it.  Swine Flu, on the other hand is disgusting.  Preventing a Swine Flu outbreak is going to get a lot more attention than preventing an Iowa Flu outbreak.  The all time best name for a disease is Flesh-Eating Bacteria.  This is a truly mediagenic name – far better than necrotizing fasciitis.

We successfully fought off an epidemic of it in 1976, with 40 million people being vaccinated.  However, this very success resulted in its being criticized.  It seems the pandemic didn’t materialize after the vaccination – a great example of public health policy:

The cases triggered fear of a pandemic – largely because the lethal 1918 flu pandemic was thought at the time to be a result of a swine flu mutation – that resulted in more than 40 million people being vaccinated. The program was later criticized when a swine flu pandemic did not materialize and a number of cases of vaccine-related side effects were reported.

My mother and father both lost siblings to childhood infections.  My mother-in-law had a life in pain and partially paralyzed due to polio.  The great advance in American life expectancies in the 20th century was largely due to advances in infectious disease control.

Yet it seems we are forgetting the value of public health vaccinations.  The very notion that a vaccination program is criticized because the pandemic didn’t occur is indicative of a much deeper issue – how can we attach value to things that don’t happen?  We only have metrics for the things that become serious to solve as a problem.  Dissolving problems before they exist does get any credit.

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