April 28th, 2009
03:44 PM ET

Swine Flu cure?

[cnn-photo-caption image=http://i2.cdn.turner.com/cnn/2009/HEALTH/04/28/swine.flu/art.swine.flu1.cnn.jpg caption="Concerned residents line up outside a pharmacy Monday in Mexico City, Mexico."]

J. Douglas Bremner, M.D.
Professor of Psychiatry and Radiology
Emory University School of Medicine

The number of swine flu cases keeps increasing all the time, with an overnight doubling in the US to 68 confirmed cases in the states of California, New York, Texas, Ohio and Kansas. What’s more concerning is the fact that some of those cases have required hospitalization. That means that the so-called “paradox” related to why the Mexicans are getting sicker than the Americans may have been wishful thinking. Meanwhile, swine flu is spreading around the world from Mexico (now 149 deaths), to Canada, Scotland, Spain, France and Israel, and most recently Asia and the Middle East.

The World Health Organization (WHO) upgraded the disease to Phase #4, which means that human to human transmission is occurring, the first time that type of high ranking has been given for a disease since the first outbreak of bird flu back in 1997.

In addition, the WHO has stated that it has “given up” on trying to prevent the spread of the disease world-wide. That means there is a pretty good chance the WHO will eventually call it a “pandemic”, meaning a disease that has spread around the world. There is a lot of confusion about travel advisories, but no country has (yet) issued any travel bans.

In Mexico City, individuals suspected of infection must be quarantined for 10 days. Most people are staying home and most public places have been closed.

The bird flu started out as influenza type A H5N1, a form that went from birds to humans, but not humans to humans. There was a lot of hype about the upcoming bird flu epidemic which obviously never materialized.

The fact that Donald Rumsfeld made over a million dollars from the growth of sales of the drug Tamiflu (oseltamavir, he was the former CEO of the company that developed it) has led to a lot of conspiracy theories on the net and on talk radio. Whatever happened back then, I don’t think there is any conspiracy now. However, the swine flu is influenza type A H1N1, and last year there were reports of a virus of this type mutating to a type that is resistant to Tamiflu, the drug stockpiled by the government.

President Obama has distributed 12 million capsules of Tamiflu around the country. Currently the Centers for Disease Control (CDC) is claiming that both Tamiflu and the related drug, Relenza (zanamavir), an inhaled drug, are effective against the swine flu, while older drugs, rimantidine and amantidine, are not effective.

It is unclear, however, if there are Tamiflu-resistant forms of the virus out there that are undetected. The CDC also state that the current version of the flu shot is not effective, and it will take another six months to develop a vaccine that is.

Tamiflu taken after the onset of symptoms will only reduce symptoms of the common flu from five days to seven and has its own side effects. Particularly, there were 64 reported cases in Japan of people developing neuropsychiatric side effects including psychosis and seizures, with two reported suicides. Side effects of both Tamiflu and Relenza can include swelling of the sinuses, diarrhea, nausea and vomiting. Patients with asthma or COPD may experience breathing problems.

The number of cases of neuropsychiatric side effects with Tamiflu may seem like no big deal, however if we give out the drug to the whole population to prevent swine flu, and if that turns out to be no big deal but results in a few suicides, people won’t be happy about that in retrospect.

A cautionary tale comes from the story of the outbreak of swine flu in 1976, which turned out to be no big deal. 40 million people were vaccinated though, and 30 died of Guillain Barre syndrome. An epidemic in 1918 of “Spanish flu” was a big deal, and was found to be a form of bird flu that killed 10% of those infected, or 40 million people, or 3% of the world’s population. That was said to be a much more aggressive disease. However, even then, most of those who died were the very young and the very elderly, and many died from complications of the flu, like getting a bacterial infection.

So what do you do? Wash your hands and don’t cough on people. That is how the virus is transmitted. Interestingly, there isn’t much evidence that masks do much for prevention.

And remember, at this point you are more likely to die crossing the street than getting the swine flu.

Filed under: 360° Radar • Public Health
soundoff (15 Responses)
  1. Doug Bremner

    I think it is too early to tell if there is a real difference between the US and Mexico in death rates, remember only 20 of the Mexican death cases have been confirmed by the CDC, and the first death in the US occurred today.

    April 29, 2009 at 12:55 pm |
  2. A Mendoza

    Could we here more about CAFO's based on information from trackernews about Smithfield's breeding operations and sanitation in the Mexican processing plants.

    April 29, 2009 at 7:13 am |
  3. ellen

    I read long ago they quarantined people who were sick and theu entire family, I think this may be the way to STOP this, maybe everything old is new again?

    April 29, 2009 at 1:59 am |
  4. Johnny D from Toronto.

    So why is it that i hear nothing of the swine flu outbreak in 1976, i have seen the US gov tv ads telling everyone to get a flu shot and how it is spread......... what went wrong? Why is this past outbreak not talked about? I am unable to post the link for the ads here so i encourage people to look them up for themselves, and i ask again why no info on the '76 outbreak on any media channel be it US networks or Canadian?
    Is it the shock factor people are looking for as a "new" deadly flu or do the drug companies need the boost in stock prices?

    April 28, 2009 at 11:39 pm |
  5. Mike

    Are we entering the perfect storm with the fragility of the world economy, geopolitical tensions with N. Korea, Iran, Pakistan, Mexican drug cartels and now a fast moving flu pandemic? What will be the effects on our U.S. and global economy, and increasing threats from Middle East and Asia?

    April 28, 2009 at 10:44 pm |
  6. Gail Hargrave

    Would it be safe to take my family to NYC this weekend for sightseeing??? Or should I stay safe at home in Mass??? I'd really like to know..

    April 28, 2009 at 10:23 pm |
  7. Chaz

    Still not enough politicians want to close the Mexican border.

    I guess their jobs are more impt. to them than all our well-being.

    April 28, 2009 at 9:49 pm |
  8. Kevin A, , ON Canada

    okay, so..

    I've been researching a little lately on this, but still feel like i have no idea what's going on.. i live about 3 hours away from toronto ( there have been 4 reported cases) and i can honestly say, i'm scared out of my pants.

    i was reassured by the last line in the story though, but.. car crashes aren't contagious.

    I don't want to discourage people from going to see a doctor if the symptoms do appear in thier everyday life, but i think that you need to be confident that there is somethingwrong, because i'm sure there are plenty of Psycho-Sematic cases. Going to the doctor because you "think" that you "Might" have a symptom or two will only slow down the doctors, who may not be running room to room right now, but soon, if this is as big as it's being made out to be, it may become a huge problem.

    April 28, 2009 at 8:09 pm |
  9. Annie Kate

    Its too soon to panic; this may be a very small outbreak in the end. In the meantime I am sure our drug companies and scientists will be working on a cure. Just exercise caution and common sense in the meantime and you will increase your chances of not getting the virus plus your hands will be cleaner than ever before.

    April 28, 2009 at 7:20 pm |
  10. Sam

    Why have such a high number of teenage Mexicans died of this? Why is there a different outcome in the USA and Canada? My daughter travelled to Mexico with her Spanish class for spring break. She spent several hours in the Mexico City aiport on March 31st. On April 5th she came down with an extreme virus. She initially experienced severe body aches, fever, headache, sore throat. At that time she was in Merida, Mexico. On April 6th, as she returned back through the Mexico City airport, she was so sick she was taken to the Mexico City Airport doctor's office. There, because she was having difficulty breathing, (something she has never experienced before), she was given oxygen by the doctor. Then, to help her with her fever, aches and pains and dizziness, she was given an injection of a drug called Metamizol. We, her parents, subsequently conducted a google search and learned that Metamizol has been banned in the USA and much of Europe since the 1970's because in some cases, on the second dose, patients' bodies create an immune reaction to the first dose and there is a significant rate of death from this reaction. When I google "Metamizol," I am cautioned never to give it to anyone under the age of 19, never to give it to anyone experiencing breathing difficulties, and never to inject it unless there is a dire emergency. It is apparently an analgesic one should always avoid using if aspirin or tylenol is available instead. Nonetheless, I learn that this analgesic is widely available and routinely used all across Mexico. It may even still be widely available in corner shops, over the counter. Could this be impacting the outcomes in Mexico?

    April 28, 2009 at 6:05 pm |
  11. Renae Moore

    Swine flu: This is another case of the government not knowing what it is doing. I went to NOLA for the weekend, which is one giant petri dish anyway, on Jazz Fest weekend when thousands of people are in town, and came home with the flu. I went to the ER on Monday morning just for precaution and the doctors weren't sure what to do with me. I was told I had the flu, but I was offered no treatment, just told to go home and drink lots of liquids and continue taking over the counter meds. And to stay home away from everyone! If I don't feel better in five days, come back. Maybe by then they will know what to do. They said they had no reported cases from NOLA, but I think that is a bunch of BS because I was staying in a cheap hotel where I know there were several rooms of people from Mexico (about 10 each) staying in the same room. NOLA is using illegal aliens to rebuild the city and there are thousands there...I am sure this is exposing the city to all sorts of diseases...(not being racists here, just staing the facts). The United States is going to be overrun by the swine flu before anyone does anything about it...sound familier???

    April 28, 2009 at 6:00 pm |
  12. GF, Los Angeles

    Of course this can't be contained. With world wide travel and illegals crossing over daily into the U.S., nothing will stop this flu nor any other future diseases.

    April 28, 2009 at 5:17 pm |
  13. William Courtland


    Be clean in society.

    Make society more clean.

    Um... sounds like a job for the new United States Postal Service.

    The south Pacific Islands? what a great place for a retreat for those infirmed from hazzardous and contagious biological agents, another island for those mentally unstable, another for those researchers who investigate biological agents... the International prison system can offer when it encorporates islands... Of course the mentally unstable island has no real action media sources...

    April 28, 2009 at 4:42 pm |
  14. Debbie

    There are no deaths reported in Canada pertaining to the swine flu - you are misleading the public with your ticker.

    April 28, 2009 at 4:04 pm |