Saturday, May 16, 2009

Shingata flu

Oh dear oh dear oh dear...

Kobe has its first two swine 'flu cases (or rather, "new-type 'flu" - shingata influenza), which means that most likely next week I will not be working on Tuesday, my Kobe day. I say 'most likely' because although schools have been told to close for a week in the area, universities have only been 'requested' to close, so it depends on the university.

In that news story they say the second test results are not in yet, but like most English news about Japan it is a little behind. The second test was positive. Also, there were TWO kids at the same school who tested positive, and one other who has already tested positive for influenza type A and is being tested for swine flu. Another ten or so (in a school of about 1000 students) have reported symptoms, and will be tested. This is the first swine flu reported in Japan not connected with travel (at least no connection has been found, yet) so it looks like it is spreading in the community.

I have mixed feelings about this. Having time off is lovely. On the other hand, the last I heard we would have to make up the classes missed by doing extra classes at the end of semester. This means that I hope this outbreak is either contained, so that we only have to make up one week, or gets out of control, so there are so many classes to make up they give up on the stupid requirement that students MUST HAVE EXACTLY 15 WEEKS OF CLASSES NO MATTER WHAT. This recent emphasis on time spent in class is ludicrous at the best of times. Do they REALLY think that quantity equals quality when it comes to education? That more time spent sitting in class ignoring the teacher gives students a better education?

But mainly, I REALLY don't want to have to work all through the summer.


Keera Ann Fox said...

Sheesh, I hope you guys don't go into a full-blown panic like the idiots (people, media, gov't) did here. Only to discover that it's just an ordinary flu and not even a severe one, at that.

Don't you just love how they conflate pandemic and epidemic?

Badaunt said...

But it IS a pandemic - the difference is in how much it spreads, not whether or not it's especially fatal. A pandemic is just an especially widespread epidemic.

But I think it is wise to close schools, anyway. This may not be much more fatal than 'ordinary' flu, but ordinary flu is bad enough if you are already sick or elderly. This one seems to be fairly contagious, and seems to hit younger people especially hard. Nobody knows what it will do next, we have no immunity to it, and no vaccine, and if it mutates to something more severe we're all in trouble. And the more it spreads, the more chance there is that it will change... the worst case would be if it combined with something like avian flu, which is deadly but (currently) doesn't spread very easily. I hope the chances of that happening are low, but bird flu is endemic in Asia so there's more chance of something like that happening here.

Japan is a terrible place for something like this - the metropolitan areas are so crowded and dense that viruses can spread like wildfire, and I suspect this one probably will. I'm in a very high risk occupation, too - a few of my students are coughing and sneezing one week and a week later so are the others, and so am I - and the last thing I want is to be trotting around between three cities spreading it everywhere I go. Minimizing spread is about the only thing that can be done at this point, and although it might seem alarmist, if you consider what happened in 1918-19 (and consider the similarities in how it started!) then ... well, wouldn't anyone rather that didn't happen again? (An interesting paper on the 1918-19 epidemic is here.)

I would not like to be the public health officials/politicians who have to make these decisions. If the measures work, and the epidemic is relatively mild or doesn't become more severe, they are accused of causing unnecessary trouble (economic strife, inconvenience, etc), but if they do nothing and something happens, that's all their fault, too! So yes, it's inconvenient, but I'd rather they erred on the side of caution than the other way around.

(My grandmother was old enough to remember the 1819-19 epidemic, and told me once that 'everybody knew somebody who had died.')

Badaunt said...

Sorry - just looked it up and you are right - it isn't a pandemic yet. According to WHO it is still in Phase 5, and to be classified as pandemic it has to be in Phase 6.

"What does pandemic alert phase 5 mean?

According to WHO definitions of phases - the virus has caused sustained community-level outbreaks in at least two countries in one WHO region. At phase 5 a pandemic is considered imminent."

"At what point does WHO consider a pandemic to have started?

Phase 6, as defined by the WHO pandemic preparedness guidelines. However, during both phase 5 and phase 6, national and local actions to respond to the outbreak shift from preparedness to response at a global level. The goal of recommended actions during these phases is to reduce the impact of the pandemic on society."

So you were right after all - it's not a pandemic yet. It just getting very close...

Mr Curley said...

But Osaka's in the news on this one tonight here in Oz - or was that the BBC I was tuned to - either way they even named Hyogo - poor Hyogo, its name only pops up in times of emergency!