Officials in countries as far away from each other as the United States and New Zealand announced today that cases of swine flu had been identified among several residents who had recently returned from Mexico. In Mexico itself, at least 80 people have died, and hundreds have become sick.
What is worrisome about swine flu is that it is caused by a hybrid virus taken from bird, pig, and human sources. The last flu of this mix was the Spanish flu which began in 1918 and killed some 29 million people, about twice as many as died during World War I which had just ended.
Could Mexican swine flu be as deadly as the Spanish flu almost a century ago?
Unlike most flu strains, the Spanish flu was most deadly among young, healthy adults, and there is some evidence that the Mexican swine flu may be developing along a similar pattern. To make matters worse, world-wide travel is much more wide spread than it was in 1920, making the potential spread of this potentially infectious disease terrifyingly rapid.
On the other hand, thus far, swine flu is not nearly as lethal as Spanish flu. And should it develop into a killer flu, the world now has anti-viral drugs on a scale that were not available to combat the Spanish flu.
So a swine flu pandemic could be very very bad. But maybe it won’t be.