Because of my work in epidemiology, I’ve been interviewed by the media a couple of times. Here are some excerpts:
The 2009 H1N1 virus did announce its presence, if experts had recognized what they were seeing. Consider an observation made by a young epidemiologist named Rene Najera at the Maryland Department of Health.
Najera, whose parents immigrated to the USA from Juarez in 1989, when he was 10, tracks Mexican health statistics, because “the world is getting so small that anything that happens elsewhere is going to hit us in Maryland as well.”
Najera saw in early spring that Mexico’s flu season wasn’t ending when it should have. The case toll was “going up and up,” he says. He reported this to epidemiologists interested in border health issues. No one knew what to make of this until two children turned up in California with flu viruses never before seen. “Then it came together,” he says.
Not every strain of the flu expected to circulate this fall is sensitive to the commonly used antiviral drug Tamiflu, said Rene Najera, an epidemiologist and the flu surveillance coordinator for Maryland’s Department of Health and Mental Hygiene.
For example, a particular strain of seasonal flu, also an H1N1, is expected to circulate this flu season and has for the last couple of seasons. This seasonal H1N1, distinct from the novel 2009 H1N1 commonly known as “swine flu,” is resistant to Tamiflu, Najera said.
For the high risk or the hospitalized, testing may help inform doctors about how best to fight the virus. Besides Tamiflu, other antiviral drugs are available, said Najera, and some physicians may choose to test patients in those circumstances to help make the best treatment choice.
“We’re looking at ways to fill in the gaps of our existing surveillance system,” said Rene Najera, an epidemiologist at the health department. “We’re trying to get at people who don’t go to the hospital or do not see physicians. When those people do not seek care, they don’t get reported to us.”
With a more complete picture of a spreading flu epidemic, health officials say, they might be more effective with efforts to vaccinate people and teach them how to avoid catching and spreading the flu.