Program Note: Tune in tonight for an update on the 2009 H1N1 influenza virus on AC360° at 10 p.m. ET.
Special to CNN
The rapid spread of the 2009 H1N1 influenza virus (also known as swine flu) from Mexico to at least 19 other countries in less than 10 days is a cause of major concern.
It emphasizes the need for the public to become familiar with how influenza is spread and which preventive measures they can use to reduce their chances of becoming infected.
Although little information is available at this time, it appears that this influenza virus spreads from one person to another in the same way as other influenza viruses - by "droplet spread."
Respiratory droplets are generated when an infected person coughs or sneezes and expels droplets of fluid. Those droplets travel short distances (usually less than three feet) through the air and can be deposited on the mouth or in the nose of people or on surfaces.
Special to CNN
Writers on etiquette receive a continuous flow of questions on subjects such as "When is it too early in the season to wear white accessories?" and "What is the proper gift to send to a family in mourning?"
But now, questions often apply to serious discussions of good manners and etiquette involving sickness, even if the H1N1 flu turns out to be limited in scope and relatively mild. The following are a few of my answers to recent questions on the subject:
1) If you're a naturally affectionate-hugger-and-kisser kind of person, in the present environment, restrain yourself when greeting friends and family. Cool down! Others may adore your effusiveness under normal circumstances, but these are not normal. Someone who has just seen a grid on TV of the transmission of thousands of flu germs may not want any contact of a close nature for a long time to come.
Program Note: Tune in tonight to hear more about the reaction to the H1N1 pandemic on AC360° at 10 p.m. ET.
The Los Angeles Times
When tragedy strikes, people are supposed to band together and find strength in numbers, right? When the well-being of your community is threatened, it's important to look out for your neighbors and lend a hand to those in need, no?
Well, that's what many of us may have thought before all the hysteria about the looming swine flu pandemic.
Last week, as public health officials braced for what they thought was the worst, they were on the verge of prescribing something that may seem counterintuitive to the bleeding hearts among us: If you want to stay alive, stay the heck away from other people.
Maybe I'm too sensitive, but every time I get the sniffles, I invariably wind up feeling insulted by someone telling me not to get too close to them. I mean, I'm feeling lousy and the first thing they tell me is "stay away"? Don't get me wrong. I'm all for self-preservation (and I know, I know - if I'm sick, I should do everyone a favor and go home). But I promise not to sneeze on you, and you could at least feign concern for my well-being. I mean, what if I had swine flu or something?
[cnn-photo-caption image=http://i2.cdn.turner.com/cnn/2009/HEALTH/05/03/swine.flu/art.china.swine.flu.afp.jpg caption="An employee at a Beijing hotel that is under quarantine receives supplies from her husband Sunday. "]
This is developing news here in Beijing about treatment of those who hold Mexican passports. It is based on first-hand reports from people I trust:
– A family of tourists - two parents; a son age 8; and daughters ages 6 and 4 - were staying in a five-star Beijing hotel. Like all foreigners in China, they had presented their passports for inspection on arrival. Their passports were from Mexico. At 4 am last night they heard a pounding on the door. Public-security officials asked them to come to the hospital for a few quick tests. In fact they were taken to a hospital and not allowed to leave. They received no drugs or treatment of any sort and were placed in a room where the beds and sheets still bore the marks of the previous ill and bleeding patients. They managed to contact Mexican officials by phone - which was the first the Mexican government had heard of their situation. There is no indication that they are sick. They were assured that they would be treated as well as "any Chinese citizen." (!) This evening, another family of three has been taken from a hotel because they are Mexican.
– As international flights arrive in Beijing, from any destination, passengers are being asked to show their passports before the plane comes to the terminal. Those with Mexican passports are not allowed to enter the city. They have been taken to a hotel for quarantine and are still there. Some 40 to 50 people are now being detained in this way. To be clear, this is not being applied to people who've recently been to Mexico, or who are showing signs of disease, or who have been exposed in some other way. It has been purely a matter of whether they are Mexican citizens.
CNN Senior Executive Producer
It may be time to edit the script of the flight attendant whose brief finger wag is famous among Delta passengers. Her name is Katherine Lee. She looks like she was cast in Hollywood, but she’s a real Delta flight attendant. And her video instructions on how to use seat belts and emergency exits seem to captivate every cabin. She’s hard to ignore, easy to obey. And, therefore, she may be a powerful weapon to prevent the spread of H1N1 flu on airplanes. We’ll get to Ms. Lee shortly. But first …
Thank You, Mr. Vice President
It all started when Vice President Biden gave an “off message” remark that, to be fair, reflected what many were already thinking. He said he would not want his family flying on an airplane now, given the spread of the H1N1 flu. “When one person sneezes,” he noted “it goes all the way through the aircraft.” That set off a flurry of fact-checks here at CNN. AC 360’s Randi Kaye got some fascinating material from Dr. Mark Gendreau, who’s not just any doctor. In addition to being Assistant Professor of Emergency Medicine at Tufts University School of Medicine, he’s pretty obsessed with the study of how germs and viruses spread on airplanes.
A Droplet’s Range
It was reassuring to hear Dr. Gendreau tell us: “The Vice President got it wrong on this one. There’s no scientific evidence that there is widespread transmission of particles on aircraft.” When an infected person coughs, says Dr. Gendreau and others, the virus droplets only spread about three feet. It was also reassuring to hear him tell us that each section of a plane on a major airliner has its own filtration system, and the system’s are generally HEPA (High Efficiency Particulate Air) filters which trap fine particles.
The number of confirmed swine flu cases across the globe kept rising Friday, but some signs of hope emerged in the battle against the worldwide outbreak.
Scientists are working to develop vaccines to confront the flu, and one Mexican politician cited evidence that the virus is "letting up."
The World Health Organization said Friday that the number of confirmed cases stood at 365 worldwide, including 141 in the United States and 156 in Mexico. Thirteen countries have confirmed cases, the organization said.
Inside Higher Ed
The impact of the swine flu outbreak continues to grow on American colleges campuses - even as the confirmed cases appear small in number and relatively mild.
On Thursday, Texas Wesleyan University, Western Oregon University, and the Harvard Dental School announced plans to close temporarily - although no one at Texas Wesleyan is believed to have swine flu. The university has canceled all classes and campus events through May 5, effectively ending the semester early. A spokesman noted that school districts that educate the children of many employees and students had shut down, so the institution was worried about the ability of these parents to juggle responsibilities. Currently, the university plans to have students consult with faculty members on assignments, and to hold final exams on schedule.
Western Oregon announced that it is closing through Monday because of a likely diagnosis of a student with swine flu. Residence halls are remaining open, but other major facilities - including the library - will be shut.
At Harvard University, a dental student's possible case of swine flu has led the dental school to close all clinics and to call off classes today. Classes are also being canceled at the the university's medical school and public health school, which share a campus with the dental school. Harvard's medical campuses are located away from the university's main campus, in Cambridge.
Columbia Business School
The outbreak of swine flu, which is responsible for at least 159 deaths in Mexico, has put the U.S. vaccine industry into overdrive. However, the New York Times reports that federal officials are warning consumers that a swine flu vaccine will not be available until late November at the earliest. What does this long lead time teach us about supply chain risks?
In the case of vaccines, it underscores how dependent the U.S. supply is on a traditional — and slow — manufacturing process that involves growing the vaccine viruses in hen eggs. The process takes approximately six months for a finished product to be ready for market.
Professor Awi Federgruen, who has written in Ideas at Work about his research on supply chain risk in general and the flu vaccine in particular, says that the vaccine industry is lacking adequate incentives for investments in better and faster technology and larger capacities.