This Week in Swine Flu: Elmo, Mobile Apps, & Back-to-School Fears

By Eliza Strickland | September 4, 2009 11:48 am

swine flu newsThe week began with the news that Colombian president Alvaro Uribe had come down with swine flu while meeting with other South American leaders in Argentina. But Uribe is making a full recovery, and experts note that cases of the H1N1 flu are starting to taper off along with the influenza season in the Southern Hemisphere…. “All countries report that after mid-July, disease activity in most parts of the country decreased,” [Reuters], according to a U.S. government report.

Meanwhile, schoolchildren and college students across the Northern Hemisphere are heading back to school, and health officials are bracing for swine flu, round two. It’s already cropping up where conditions are right. Just as the football season is getting under way, Duke, Texas Christian and Alabama have reported cases of swine flu or of players experiencing flulike symptoms…. The strain tends to spread most quickly among young adults, who have not built an immunity to flu strains. Because the athletes share dorm rooms, cafeterias and sometimes unsanitary locker rooms, “it’s kind of an ideal situation for the flu,” said Artealia Gilliard, a spokeswoman for the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention [The New York Times]. Outbreaks were also reported at some colleges where women are attending sorority rush events before the start of classes.

Colleges have put a number of contingency plans in place to deal with outbreaks, including swine flu buses to spirit away the sick to infirmaries and drive-up vaccination clinics that will open as soon as vaccines are available, probably in early October. City education departments are also kicking their preventive machinery into high gear. On Tuesday, New York Mayor Michael Bloomberg announced that all primary school-age children in New York City will be offered free vaccines for seasonal and H1N1 flu this year [Reuters]. School officials in New York and elsewhere have said that they’re reluctant to close schools, as they did in the spring during the pandemic’s onset, because it disrupts parents’ work schedules and does little to halt the spread of the virus.

Swine flu is likely to infect more people than the typical seasonal flu this fall and winter, according to researchers who compared the two types of infections in ferrets and found that swine flu spreads more easily. However, the researchers also had good news: They say the H1N1 virus is not likely to mix with other circulating flu viruses into a “superbug” as some had feared [Reuters]. Other researchers from the World Health Organization who have been tracking swine flu cases around the world say the virus has not mutated into a more virulent form.

Vaccine companies are still racing to produce enough doses of a swine flu vaccine to protect those most at risk of catching the virus: children and adolescents, pregnant women, health care workers, and people with underlying health conditions like asthma. Federal health officials have said the vaccine will not become available until mid-October, with about 200 million doses ready by the end of the year. The reach of those vaccines, however, could be shorter if testing indicates that people need two doses to develop immunity [The New York Times].

The virus has killed 40 U.S. children since April, but when researchers looked at the details of those pediatric deaths they came up against a puzzling fact. Normally, half or more of the children who die from flu are age 4 and younger. But more than 80 percent of the kids who died with swine flu were 5 or older…. It’s not clear why such a large percentage of the swine flu pediatric deaths are in kids aged 5 and older. It simply may be because older children were more likely to encounter the virus — at schools, summer camps — than very young children who spend more time at home [AP].

To get the word out to youngsters about how to avoid swine flu (including lots of hand-washing and other hygienic habits), the U.S. government has turned to a furry spokesman: Elmo, of Sesame Street. To reach a more mature demographic, researchers built a mobile app for the iPhone called Outbreaks Near Me, which allows users to track and report outbreaks of infectious diseases, including swine flu.

Related Content:
80beats: This Week in Swine Flu: How Many Deaths, Vaccine in Sight & Tough Oldsters
80beats: Half of Americans Could Contract Swine Flu This Season
80beats: Study: Tamiflu Too Risky & Ineffective for Use by Children
DISCOVER: Vaccine Production Is Horribly Outdated. Here Are 3 Ways to Fix It.

Image: iStockphoto

CATEGORIZED UNDER: Health & Medicine
  • bill

    If some of the breeders would take a sickday instead of riding public transportation, or teach their spawn some hygeine- like “cover your mouth!” things’d be easier.

  • Mova

    This flu vaccine is scary – if the flu shot doesn’t kill you, the flu will. I used Viralox, the last flu season and didn’t get as much as a sniffle. Viralox Health Spray is a broad spectrum anti-viral support. My family will be naturally protected…no side effects. Be well. Mova

  • Christina Viering

    I don’t like taking flu shots because they make me sick, but this year I am required to have it by my employer.

  • Henny

    Mother Earth is going to have a great big flush soon. It is like we are that big burrito she ate, when she shoulda just had a taco. Now it is the next day, and she’s about to take a seat. Viralox isn’t going to save you if a 1918 kind of flu hits.
    In 1918 America lost half of its pregnant women to flu. More soldiers died in W.W.I from flu than from war. For a modern day example, just look outside. Crow and some other bird populations crashed a few years back, because of flu, and still haven’t recovered. In Chicago we still have only 15% of the original crow numbers.

  • Alexander Notarangelo

    eh.. were over populated anyway.

    wasnt it darwin that said whenever a species gets to large in numbers it will face an enviormental hardship to contain the numbers within the species.

    The United States needs to control population density within its nation, you do all realize that at current growth your going to have 500 million people by 2050. You cant even afford a universal health care plan (which could use preventative measures to ensure an outbreak is controlled and taken care of in the early stages) for 300 million.

  • cory


    ignoring the above commenters, I really wish that somebody would clarify the quote in the article about, “It simply may be because older children were more likely to encounter the virus — at schools, summer camps — than very young children who spend more time at home”—

    What actually IS the number of kids under school age that stay at home vs. that are placed in daycares and preschools? What is that ratio to the number of deaths of infected children at any age? I can see using that information to explain an incidence pattern (more kids in school exposed=more kids infected over age five =more kids dead from the infection), but nowhere is it said that that is the case. What is the rate of infection in school age children vs. toddlers at home vs. toddlers in preschools/day care centers? And then, what are the death rates in each group? Unless ALL that information is collected, the quoted statement is meaningless. ugh! would it be too much to receive THAT information in an article ?

  • Tina

    Sooo, Ifff you people say that more kids will die from this swine flu in schools than those at homes than why are we still in school?! If what you’re saying is true then we don’t need to be in school. I think it’s better to stay alive at home than to get an education out where you can get sick like never before. Email me at when you have the answer to the above question. And by the way Cory has a point. I think we should get education but it isn’t safe with this flu running around. Besides vaccines create some sort of pill or something that will strengthen your immune system 5 times as strong as it already is if it can’t handle this new kind of flu.


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