Home / Culture and Society / And This Little Piggy Flu All the Way Home: An Analysis of the Swine Flu

And This Little Piggy Flu All the Way Home: An Analysis of the Swine Flu

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This is a developing story, and from the standpoint of news, the who, what and where of what I write here will be outdated by the time it is published.

I learned about the swine flu while sitting in the doctor's office on Monday, 27 April 2009, looking at a commuter paper called yisraél hayóm, Israel Today. The front page displayed a headline in Hebrew, "Security [Defense] Minister: 'We will handle the swine flu!'" This is the typical bragging style of Security Minister Ehud Barak.

Inside the newspaper was a map of the world showing where cases of swine flu had broken out as well as the locations of suspicious cases, the ones in Europe which have since proved to be swine flu.

Mexico, where pork is an important food, led the list with over 60 dead (this was Monday's paper) and at that time there were cases in the USA, Canada, New Zealand, and — wouldn't you know it — one case here in Israel, in Netanya, where the pork-eating Russian immigrants abound. Apparently there is a price to be paid when you have an achin' for bacon, one that goes beyond heart attacks and high cholesterol. Another case was reported Monday on the 12:00 Voice of Israel radio news and was confirmed to be swine flu by health officials here.

According to Alex Jones reporting on Saturday, a doctor at a Mexican hospital sent an e-mail to the BBC, telling them that the real number of deaths from the pig flu was over 200 (as opposed to the then-reported 60). It wouldn't be a surprise to discover that the Mexican government was massaging the numbers in reporting the number of dead. The Egyptians and Pakistanis did the same when the bird flu was killing their people a while back.

But the really interesting data came at the Recombinomics website, which reports that this is evidently a human-to-human variation of the H1N1 virus, mixed with the H1N1 swine flu virus; very similar, in other words, to the 1918 Spanish Flu.

On YouTube there were also various video updates from the BBC, from stations in the States and elsewhere, all talking about the severity of the swine flu in Mexico (over 150 deaths reported) and how the swine flu is attacking young and healthy people.

In addition, there was a conspiracy type "video" — actually a podcast with no pictures that could be seen. The narrator explains in some detail about viruses and flu virus generally, and how it his belief (reflected on the Alex Jones video as well) that this virus is being released slowly into the population by the government, and that what is going on right now is really a "pre-pandemic" situation, a test, in other words. The narrator notes a key bit of data: that the flu season is over, and yet this flu is spreading. He observes that when the flu season, October until April, hits, this flu will hit as a pandemic.

Taking the "conspiracy" angle out of this podcast and treating this as a natural event, the information reflects this raw footage from WPXI, a TV station in Pittsburgh, PA, of an interview with Dr. Henry Niman of Recombinomics. This is a video I strongly suggest you watch.

There are some essential points to be understood here. The first is that the World Health Organization (WHO) has a rating system for pandemics, running from Levels 1 to 6, with Level 6 being a sustained pandemic. According to Dr. Niman, the WHO reworked the definitions of these levels a year or two ago, saying they would not go upwards from Level 3 unless they saw a sustained pandemic with human-to-human transmission. In effect, the WHO eliminated Levels 4 and 5, but did not discard them publicly. According to the video, the WHO raised the alert level from 3 to 4 on Monday, 27 April 2009, meaning that they believed that there was a sustained pandemic going on.

The second point to understand is that this virus is traveling quickly through transit hubs and it is a waste of time to shut national borders – although according to an Alex Jones caller located in northern Mexico, just such a thing was being attempted in that country, with the northern states closing their borders to the southern and central states, where infections were highest. The reporter doing the interview with Dr. Niman expressed the thought that what was going on was the barn door being shut after the horse had gone.

The third point, related to the second one, which needs to be clearly understood is that the tracking of this swine flu is trailing the actual infections. By the time someone is tested for any of this, it is probably a month or so too late.

Dr. Niman cited the fact that the first infections showed up in Mexico in March, but the deaths didn't start to come until mid to late April. This means that while there have been no fatalities yet in the United States or Europe, as time progresses, there will be. When asked by the reporter from WPXI if this wasn't an alarmist view, Dr. Niman replied that if one reads the reports of the Centers for Disease Control (CDC) and WHO carefully, one sees the same facts presented, but packaged in such a way as not to cause a general panic. Indeed, when looking at this report from WPXI, we learn that Dr. Donald Burke, Dean of the School of Public Health at the University of Pittsburgh, is spearheading the formation of a group to deal with the flu when it does show up in the Pittsburgh area. According to Dr. Burke, the threat the swine flu poses is “big enough that we’re going into emergency mode and putting together a task force.”

According to the report at the WPXI website, the swine flu task force held its first meeting on Tuesday afternoon, 28 April 2009, and Burke is now planning a public meeting of city officials to which residents can come and address any concerns they may have.

According to Dr. Niman, what we are seeing is a replay of the 1918 flu pandemic with an early breakout in spring and summer, and a severe return during flu season, starting in October. The CDC website has an article, "The 1918 Influenza: the Mother of All Pandemics" From the article:

In the 1918–1919 pandemic, a first or spring wave began in March 1918 and spread unevenly through the United States, Europe, and possibly Asia over the next 6 months[…]Illness rates were high, but death rates in most locales were not appreciably above normal. A second or fall wave spread globally from September to November 1918 and was highly fatal. In many nations, a third wave occurred in early 1919. Clinical similarities led contemporary observers to conclude initially that they were observing the same disease in the successive waves. The milder forms of illness in all 3 waves were identical and typical of influenza seen in the 1889 pandemic and in prior interpandemic years.

In retrospect, even the rapid progressions from uncomplicated influenza infections to fatal pneumonia, a hallmark of the 1918–1919 fall and winter waves, had been noted in the relatively few severe spring wave cases. The differences between the waves thus seemed to be primarily in the much higher frequency of complicated, severe, and fatal cases in the last 2 waves.

So, put simply, the big question here is "will the swine flu return in October?" According to Dr. Niman, the swine flu strikes at those whose immune systems are strongest, appears as a typical case of the flu and then turns into what he termed "atypical pneumonia;" this is what has been killing those who have died from the swine flu. Tamiflu, the vaunted drug of choice against this disease, will not work according to Dr. Niman. A new vaccine will have to be found. The good news is that if there are a lot of cases of swine flu, there will be lots of samples to look at to see how the virus mutates, evolves and recombines. The bad news is that in emergency conditions, governments will enact triage conditions, and deal only with the serious cases.

As for surviving this flu, according to medical authorities, there are certain basic precautions to be taken:

1. Frequent hand-washing. This most basic tool of hygiene can save your life.
2. Stay away from crowds and places where this flu can be transmitted.
3. Stock up on medicine, canned goods and water to
reduce the need to be where you can catch the flu.
4. Stay away from pork, particularly raw uncooked meat. If you do eat pork (or any meat for that matter) make sure it is cooked to a kill temperature of at least 175 degrees Fahrenheit or 85 degrees Celsius.

And last, but certainly not least, if you have religious belief, pray.

Stay safe – stay alive.

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About Ruvy

Hi!! Thanks for coming to my article! I was raised in Brooklyn, was graduated from the City University of New York in 1978 with a BA in political science and public administration there. I lived in Minnesota for a number of years. There I managed restaurants and wrote stories. We moved with our children family to Israel where we now reside. My work can be found at Ruvy's Roost, Jewish Indy,, and on Facebook under my full name, Reuven Kossover
  • Dan

    I’m thinking of stocking my freezer with a lot of cheap pork chops.

  • Clavos

    LOL, Dan!

    Don’t forget the bacon…

  • zingzing

    when/if this thing proves more deadly than the regular old flu, then i’ll believe that this is a serious threat and not a media-hyped creation. maybe it is serious, but comparing this to 1918 is just a little on the hysterical side.

    #1, it’s not 1918. back then we didn’t have penicillin or even microscopes, if that tells you anything, and death rates from these kinds of flu viruses have dropped over 90% since that time.

    #2, the infection/mutation rate was greatly accelerated by large concentrations of soldiers living in dirty, close quarters.

    #3, bird flu! bird flu! or swine flu, pt 1 (1976)!

    stay scared. i’m getting on the damn subway and going to a packed bar now.

  • zingzing

    ahem. electron microscopes, i mean. before anyone gets started.

  • Clavos

    That’s what I get for being slow on the uptake…

  • I wish I could join you, zing for a couple of stiff martinis. What’s your favorite NY bar, BTW? I used to know all the joints in the Wall St. district. A “Commuters’ Bar,” by the tubes, was a heck of a place. You’d catch all the floozies on their way to Jersey.

  • Well, zing, since your comment seems most dismissive, we’ll address it first.

    This flu has killed a whole bunch of people in a very short time after the flu season came to an end. That is why the WHO is taking it seriously. If you wish to be scared or not is your business. Given that you live in New York, you will likely not avoid infection. Being infected with this airborne virus is not the issue. The issue is, “do you fall sick from it?” and then the second issue is, “if you do fall sick from it, will it be serious enough for your body to generate an immune response (atypical pneumonia) that will kill you?”

    On an individual level, those are the only real questions, zing. On a larger level, the issue is, “will this swine flu follow in the footsteps of the Spanish flu?” This means killer waves of influenza in October-November.

    You have the link to the raw footage at WPXI, footage I suggested you watch. Beyond all that, the choice is all yours.

  • Roger,

    A “Commuters’ Bar,” by the tubes, was a heck of a place. You’d catch all the floozies on their way to Jersey.

    Spoken like a true New Yorker….

  • Clavos,

    I think this is your work in publishing, no? There is one error I made.

    This sentence, Taking the “conspiracy” angle out of this podcast and treating this as a natural event, the information includes this raw footage from WPXI,…. should read, Taking the “conspiracy” angle out of this podcast and treating this as a natural event, the information reflects this raw footage from WPXI,


  • While the previous comment reflects my error in one word, I wish to emphasize to everyone else reading, that I’m not buying any conspiracy theories about this swine flu or its spread, no matter how convincingly presented.

  • zingzing

    roger: ” What’s your favorite NY bar, BTW?”

    my favorite bar, and it’s in brooklyn, of course, is call fette sau. it’s a place that serves american whiskeys and vinger bbq. they also serve some great american beers. there’s a place across the street, called something ridiculous (meaning, it’s not called “something ridiculous,) that serves a load of great world beers. it’s owned by the same people. so you go get some great beer, you go next door, get loaded up on pork (so fitting) and then drink a bunch of whiskeys. i’m not a big gin fan (in fact, i prefer a vodka martini–gin is a dirty drunk,) so, for martinis, you might have to go somewhere else.

    but if you want to see new york, fuck manhattan. brooklyn. best place in the world.

  • zingzing

    ruvy: “Given that you live in New York, you will likely not avoid infection.”

    hasn’t hit me yet. nor anyone else, far as i can tell.

    “Being infected with this airborne virus is not the issue.”

    airborne? i don’t think it’s quite floating around like that yet. it’s not quite that serious. really, only one person in nyc has died of it, most symptoms have been mild. it’s just like a cold.

    “The issue is, “do you fall sick from it?” and then the second issue is, “if you do fall sick from it, will it be serious enough for your body to generate an immune response (atypical pneumonia) that will kill you?””

    obviously, i hoping not. i hope you’re hoping not, too. i’ve got a good strong immune system. if this thing is anything like the spanish flu, i’ll die from it. but it hasn’t really gotten that bad yet. maybe it will. who knows?

    yes, we should be careful. but i’m not wearing a mask or wearing gloves on the subway. fuck that. when this thing turns into the plague, i’ll figure it out. there are plenty of places that will go first. i’ll have all the warning i need.

    but this is all shit. i was talking to my mother tonight (who i am going to visit for mother’s day, fuck you very much) and she said, “you know, your dad and i lived through swine flue in ’76,” and i said, “everyone lived through it,” and she said, “that’s true.”

  • zingzing

    oh christ,

    i[‘m] hoping not

    thanks. it’s 3:30. leave me alone.

  • zingzing

    shit, look it up. this stuff comes up every 10 years or so. 1976, 1988, 2009. alright, so the 1990s didn’t have one, but so what?. this is total hysteria. just go about your day. all will be well, unless it’s not, and in either case, you’re fucked, so fuck it. really.

  • Ruvy

    Israel’s Ministry of Health raised this nation’s level of alert to five today, following the discovery o two new swine flu cases reports Arutz Sheva. Israel apparently has a phased alert level that mirrors that of the World Health Organization.

    In other news, an Israeli start-up has developed a system to detect swine flu and other animal diseases before they spread.

  • The problem, to the best of my understanding, is not the present strain but the possibility of its mutation in the immediate future.

  • Clavos

    Ruvy #9:

    Fixed, amigo.

  • Ruvy

    Muchas gracias, Clavos

  • Ruvy

    The problem, to the best of my understanding, is not the present strain but the possibility of its mutation in the immediate future.

    Yes and no. This article in the International Herald Tribune gives you a flavor for the arguing going on over this among virologists.

    From the article:

    While some scientists looking at the virus genome debated its origin, Peter Palese, chairman of microbiology at Mt. Sinai School of Medicine, found cause for optimism about the future. All the pandemic viruses of the last century — the 1918, 1957 and 1968 flus — had a mutation in the gene coding for a protein known as PB1-F2 that is thought to make a virus more lethal. The mutation, he said, is not in the new strain.

    Dr. Niman, looking at the same sequences, saw a mutation that, at the same position in H5N1, appeared to speed the virus’s spread in Egypt.

  • Hey, Ruvy,

    You did have problems posting, no? I’m still cold to the new BC site; and I’m not alone, it seems. The participation level must be down to forty percent or less than in had been.

    I’m not certain if I’ll warm up to it again. The interactive/immediacy aspect appears to be gone.

  • Ruvy, I laugh at the swine flu. Well, not really, but several tens of thousands die from flu every year. The way I figure it, if it’s your turn to go, it’s your turn.

    Roger… I’m with you. It took me all of yesterday to get my article in. Something kept eating it. I’m no computer geek, and it took a long time to look up my links and place them. Your point on the interactive problem also strikes a nerve with me too. And, since I’m old and in the complaining mood, the bright white is hard on the eyes.

    Of course, maybe the participation is down because it’s finally spring.

  • zing2, your assessment of why the 1918 Spanish flu pandemic shouldn’t necessarily be looked at as the model for what’s about to happen leaves a bit to be desired.

    Yes, you caught the microscope thing but some of your other points are a bit wide of the mark.

    Even if penicillin had existed in 1918 it wouldn’t have done a blind bit of good, since it’s an antibiotic and flu is a virus.

    You correctly point out that soldiers living in close confines (not to mention that they were in many cases already weakened from fighting and being gassed) provided the perfect transmission medium. A second exacerbating factor was that the resources of the medical community were already stretched to breaking point by the war, and could not adequately cope with outbreaks in the civilian population.

    Furthermore, the medical consensus was that the flu was caused by a bacterium rather than a virus. Consequently, the wrong drugs were being used to combat the disease.

    These are all important points. This is not 1918 and the world is far better equipped to cope with a pandemic: which is why the bird flu outbreak a couple of years ago (which Ruvy held out great hopes for), while extremely nasty, was very limited in its impact.

    And BTW, just to clarify, Tamiflu is not a vaccine. It’s an ingestible drug for the treatment and, in certain circumstances, prevention of flu infections.

  • zingzing

    i’m pretty disappointed with the comments section. the breaking up of the pages, the ads, the design of the “recent comments” section, the loss of the old “author comments,” (so you can go find what people said about what way back when,) and so many other things.

    the site could have used an update, but this drastic overhaul might end up doing more damage than good. it took me a while just to adjust my eyes to it.

  • It doesn’t have yet the right feel, Joanne. Too antiseptic to my taste. Good for advertisers, I suppose, but us. . . I almost feel as though I’m disconnected.

    Just think. I haven’t seen Cindy online for two days now – one of the most prolific of commenters – and I miss it. I have to email her just to learn she’s still alive. It’s a bummer.

    Let’s hope it will improve, and soon.

  • zingzing

    doc: “Even if penicillin had existed in 1918 it wouldn’t have done a blind bit of good, since it’s an antibiotic and flu is a virus.”

    the point is that medicine has advanced since 1918. i wasn’t trying to be specific to any viral medicine.

    so point #1 is that medicine has advanced, point #2 is that conditions are different and point #3 is that we’ve heard this shit before.

    which is exactly what you said. so what did you get out of your comment that was “left to be desired” by mine? i dunno.

  • Yes, take them fucking adds off. It’s an unwelcome interruption. And try to make it continuous, so that when you click on the recent comment in “Recent Comments” section, you’re directed to that comment and not page one. This is basics.

    Also, make “Fresh Comments” default – and filter all those so as to eliminate the bullshit that goes on on other sites you’re not interested in.

    Easy navigation is the ticket. The designers should be users rather than proxies for the advertisers. We are the ones who make this site “happen.” So let’s keep this little inconvenient fact in mind.

  • The Obnoxious American

    Might I suggest that we give Change a chance? BC needs to make money, and what’s a few ads among friends. It might even be good to click on one or three of them to keep the revenue going so we can keep this wonderful thing going.

    Note, I don’t work for the site and will not gain from any ad revenue :>

    I think the redesign is GREAT. I mean this is a major improvement over what it was. The old design was, how shall i put this, “retro” :>

    The new design is smart bright, colorful. It makes us look better. Trust me on that.

    It’s not perfect though, and here is my short list of issues with it:

    1) Technocrati Monster errors, the errors need to be resolved, but that error message needs to be changed as well, especially because of how often it occurs.

    2) Might make sense to use a different server for admin than for regular traffic, so that an overload of traffic to the site does not mess up bloggers trying to post their articles – right now I think it’s all one server doing two tasks. But this might be expensive

    3) Bring back the “Fresh Comments” page in one way or another

    4) Show more than 20 comments per page, in fact, allow for sticky options such as alwasy show all comments, or show the latest first. Right now, I find I keep needing to select show latest. I liked it when it was all one list, but truth be told it was unweildy.

    And BTW, nice, if not somewhat paranoid article Ruvy. I’m sure you will join me in hoping you and Dr Niman are wrong.

  • Clavos

    OA, Thanks for your input in re the new site. We editors are compiling observations /complaints from writers and commenters and forwarding them to the tech gurus.

    A change in a site that is as massive as this change has been usually is buggy at first, but in this case the techies are literally working around the clock on their prioritized list, and already some of the major bugs are history, example: you may have noticed that it’s been a pretty good while since the last time the Monster got out of his cage?

    And the beat goes on…

  • OA and Clav, agreed: give it time.

    The new design will take some getting used to and looks, ironically, more ‘bloggy’ than the old one; but I hope most of the regulars who’ve initially been put off will return eventually.

    The technorarchy is taking all the comments and bug notifications on board, and before too long the site will have returned to a level of functionality that pleases most people.

    Think of it as moving to a new house: the basic structure is in place, but everything isn’t the way you want it yet and the to-do list of home improvements and repairs is a mile long. It’s daunting right now, but we’ll get there!

  • The Obnoxious American

    I totally agree. And let me reiterate, I love the new design. People are always going to be reacting in a negative way to change but you need to push through with the vision. BC is REAL CHANGE that I believe in!

    And these minor issues (they are minor – even technically the site is more functional, just has failures once in a while) will get resolved, there’s no doubt in my mind about that.

    Make sure to buy those hard working tech guys some beers tonite, good, high alcohol beers, mind you. They deserve it.

  • OA, Clavos, even Doc (sorry to say):

    You’re just displaying a herd instinct – not a most desirable trait IMHO.

    Everyone knows about the difficulties of making a transition of this size, and the time it will take. It’s this kiss-ass attitude that I find so silly, whether you’re “working” for the organization or not.

    All the “negative” feedback should be just as important as the pats on the back, more so perhaps, because it’s born of frustration. We all want BC to work, so please take it in stride rather than being on the defensive. Your political attitudes might be showing, not that some of you care one way or another.

    I apologize for this “group address” but in this case it’s convenient. And have a good day, all of yous.

  • And OA – that’s just for you, because you’re plugging for the advertisers.

    Again, it is us who make this site make money – not the techies or the designers. If we pull out enmasse, it’s gonzo.

  • I understand the need for ads, it powers the site, but when they’re in between the comments it’s hard to get used to.

    I belonged to another social network site (not Facebook) who took such a dramatic turn that it turned everyone off. Then they kept updating every couple of months and it was hard to keep up. It’s necessary for upgrades, but don’t be unfriendly to the users.

    As long as BC doesn’t go off the deep end, I’ll still be here. And it hasn’t, because even a dummy like me figured it out.

    OH! One positive: no notifications jamming my email inbox. I get enough mail as it is.

  • Shavua Tov,

    I have no objections to the additional ads. A publication has to make money, and if it doesn’t charge a subscription fee, then ads are the way to go. Blogcritics is a business, not a charity. MY big problems come with the “backend issues” coming to the front of the house so often, though it seems to have been a bit better lately. If I had run a Burger King this way, my boss would have kicked me out on my ass. My second big issue is that I would like to know A) which articles are drawing the most readers, and B) how many readers am I drawing.

    These are points I have already raised with Eric Olsen and Phil Winn (Olsen & Co.) I heard back from Dawn, asking for patience. I suspect that Phil Winn would curse me out at this stage….

    Enough whining about the site, however.

    I tried not to make the tone of this article alarmist. Had I perfumed it with false optimism, I would have been whistling past the graveyard and encouraging all of you to do the same. That is not fair.

    The bottom line, however, is that this is serious business, and it does appear to be a repeat of the 1918 Spanish Flu. Now, of course, lots of things are different today from 90 years ago, but the swine flu has no medicine that will treat it. Aggressive responses are what are needed to keep this thing under control, to the degree that this is possible. At this point, aggressive responses are easier as there are not enough people sick and dying to cause panic in the halls of power.

    Nevertheless, the question is, if this disease is indeed a replay of the 1918 pandemic, will it return with a fatal vengeance in the fall, and will a vaccine for it have been developed by then?

    One hopes for a “no” to the first question, and a “yes” to the second question. But sometimes G-d answers “no” when we all desire and feel we want “yes”. Anyone who has lost a child to illness or to miscarriage understands this very very well.

  • Just a thought. I labeled this as news, though I do not see anything to indicate that label here. I do believe that there may well be religious issues to be dealt with; if you believe, as I do, that G-d runs the universe, naturally there are these issues; but a news article dealing with evolution, etiology and presentation of a possibly murderous pandemic is not the appropriate forum to address those issues. Otherwise, I should be no different nor better than the politicians whom I believe are massaging numbers and deliberately putting out false information that is too optimistic.

    An example is to be found in Friday’s edition of Arutz Sheva. There, the Ministry of Health claimed that there were no longer cases of swine flu in Israel. But, as one read the article, one saw that over twenty people who had arrived from Mexico were in quarantine at the airport clinic. Information on their conditions was not released. All this may have changed over the last 28 hours or so. To be truthful, I have not checked yet. But as of Friday afternoon, right before Shabbat, that was the situation.

  • I just checked Ynetnews, and there is an additional case of swine flu diagnosed here, (no clear word on the condition of the other two individuals) and we start to see the massaging of the numbers in the article. At one point, the article claims that only 16 people have died in Mexico, at another, it says 168 and says that these numbers may be inflated.

    The article has very much the tone of scared shitless kids whistling past the graveyard. The Mexican government very much has the tone of a bunch of scared shitless kids whistling past the graveyard.

    It may be that the swine flu lacks the genetic staying power of past bugs, but it should be remembered that the 1918 flu was also mild in its first appearance. So we still need to wait and see. The champagne can be popped if it does not return in October with a vengeance. Till then all celebrations are premature.

    But zing, if you want to go to a crowded bar and get shit-faced, go ahead.

  • It might be helpful for you all to read this item from Recombinomics from 29 April.

    Time to hit the sack.

  • Ruvy

    While all of you are arguing about torture and such bullshit, the swine flu is jumping from humans to swine and back again. That makes for a dangerous epidemic. You read the optimistic reports and think, “oh, everything will be just fine”. Doesn’t look like that to me….

  • the Director

    In the ten years we have been studying sulfur “a food” none of our Study members have reported any flu.

    Intracellular oxygen is the key and sulfur enables the transport of oxygen across the cell membrane. piggy flu is a sham, but sulfur has also demonstrated the ability to protect those who agree to vaccinate or are forced to do so.

    The Cellular Matrix Study
    Body Human Project