Usually, at a forum on swine flu, all the experts stand up, present a bunch of general background material, a few new findings, and leave. The learning curve on H1N1 is so steep that by the time you fill in the background, you are out of time, and there’s no point in hearing the next presenter speak to a general audience
But this week’s Institute of Medicine meeting was different. Epidemiologists – the people who specialize in how disease spreads – were talking to molecular geneticists. Keiji Fukuda of the World Health Organization filled in the bench scientists on how negotiating to get vaccines and drugs for poor countries was taking up everyone’s valuable time. Veterans of the 1976 swine flu vaccine mess told their stories. Every scientist sat there raptly listening to the other’s presentations. Much of the material had not yet gone through the time consuming peer-review process needed for publication in a medical journal, so it was a little raw, but that much more useful and timely to an educated audience.
WHO has given up on trying to keep any kind of precise count on swine flu, which is just about everywhere now. It’s fairly mild but hardly anyone has any immunity, so it will infect far more people than seasonal flu does in an average year. That may mean more serious cases and more deaths than usual, just by virtue of sheer numbers.