Gaining perspective on the swine flu's arrival in Utah

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SALT LAKE CITY -- Health officials, government leaders, even news organizations are being flooded with questions about how best to react to the flu outbreak.

The state health department put its command center into operation Thursday morning to track this flu as it pays us a visit, but even that is not a cause for alarm.

"I'd rather fall on the cautious side, like setting up this command center, than wait until something really bad happens," said Dr. David Sundwall, executive director of the Utah Department of Health.

For now, at least, nothing really bad is happening, and everything, like UDOH's command center, is part of a proactive approach to keep an eye of this new flu and to stay in communication with local health departments.

Sundwall says we need to keep this virus in perspective. "I'm hoping that with this kind of flu, it's sort of a thing we can take care of at home," he said.

This virus, at it makes its first swing around the globe, is not potent. Sickness has been mild to moderate. The death toll, even from Mexico, is nowhere near the 30,000 to 40,000 deaths we see every year from our normal seasonal influenzas. In fact, the numbers blamed on the new virus that are coming out of Mexico may be in question.

"The CDC doesn't have a lot of confidence in some of the data coming out of Mexico. We think it's overestimated. We think the flu there may not be as severe or has had as many fatalities as have been reported," Sundwall said.

More perspective: the anti-viral drugs now being distributed to states have proven effective against this new bug, at least in reducing the severity and length of illness if you get it.

There are many questions circulating about the virus. Here are a few simple answers:

Should we fly on an airplane?

  • Sure, with the exception of Mexico right now, and don't fly if you're sick

Should we curtail our normal activities?

  • Not for now. Just practice good hygiene and wash your hands. Also, don't go to the hospital emergency rooms if you're not really sick

When should we worry?

  • If the virus changes its face and becomes more potent
  • If it clusters in neighborhoods
  • If people are hospitalized

Though we're seeing the virus' mild side this season, we can't overlook history. "As we look back on that awful epidemic of 1918, it seemed to be the second year when that virus had mutated and changed and became very lethal. So, we're going to be on guard here for months to come."

This virus could burn out or, as we've said, it could mutate and become more potent. But for now, as isolated cases surface here, Sundwall hopes this will be the kind of mild flu we can take care of at home.


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Ed Yeates


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