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Canada's 'flu hunters' track a wily new virus Add to ...

However, one should not be lulled into complacency by the fact that swine flu is not very contagious. The Spanish flu, the biggest killer of all time, had an R0 in the range of 1.2-3. Diseases that spread slowly and methodically like the flu tend to sicken and kill a lot more people than those that spread rapidly and burn out.

In an earlier Q & A, you wrote that "people who are infected with swine influenza A H1N1 will have immunity, or at least partial immunity, should there be a full-fledged pandemic." Pandemics tend to come in waves, the second worse than the first. So would it not make sense for healthy individuals to expose themselves to the flu to obtain some degree of immunity, trading a week of misery for protection against a possible more virulent second wave?

People raised in pre-immunization times will recall that mothers often staged chicken-pox parties so all the kids in the neighbourhood would contract the disease at once and get it over with. That was an effective (but slightly cruel) way of building lifelong immunity. However, holding a swine-flu party would be imprudent, for a number of reasons. The flu can be nasty; even a mild case can mean a week of fever, coughing and diarrhea. Second, there is no guarantee you will get a mild case of swine flu, even if you are infected by someone with a mild case. Influenza can be fatal and A H1N1 seems to hit kids particularly hard. Third, flu viruses mutate; if you deliberately get infected with a circulating strain of swine flu now, you may have only a little immunity later in a pandemic - so you get twice the misery. Finally, at and this is minor by comparison, is the aesthetics. At chicken-pox parties, kids got to play and the highly infectious virus did its work silently. At a swine-flu party, you would be dependent on a feverish, miserable host with the runs coughing on everyone - and you might also have to watch the slideshow from his Mexican vacation. If there is a vaccine for swine influenza A H1N1, will it be administered at the same time as the regular flu shot?

Preparations for the seasonal influenza vaccine that will be administered in the fall of 2009-10 are already well under way. It will take four to six months to develop a swine-flu vaccine, so it will not be added to the seasonal shot. If the swine flu becomes a serious threat, a vaccine could be produced urgently, but separately, and administered before the seasonal flu shots or at the same time. It is also possible that if the new flu virus continues to cause mostly mild disease, there will be no vaccination program.

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The flu in Mexico

Analysis of 1,280 cases shows children and young adults are most at risk of contracting H1N1 flu.


0-9 years: 24.1%

10-19 years: 23.7%

20-29 years: 19.4%

30-39 years: 13.6%

40-49 years: 10.1%

50-59 years: 6.7%

60+ years: 1.8%

Unknown: 0.6%


Mexico City: 11

State of Mexico: 2

Oaxaca: 1

Tlaxcala: 1



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