Swine Flu, otherwise known as Influenza A H1N1.
Not to be alarmist, but even if you are not normally interested in these sorts of semi-apocalyptic world events, you may want to pay attention, at least until there is some real idea of how big this is going to spread. Unfortunately, because of the way rumors spread about these sorts of things, and the really, truly unbelievable USELESSNESS of the major media on this issue, we probably won't know what's really happening until its over, and by that time it will be too late for the people who will be the casualties.
The media is providing this, generally, as the story:
"Some people, we don't really know how many, are like, pig-sick, or something. California, Kansas, Texas, New York, Mexico. Maybe some other places? Some disease researcher types think it might be serious."
Twitter and Wikipedia, on the other hand, are much better, but still not the magic media bullet. @timoreilly passed on this Google map of current outbreaks. This is not really that informative, but contextualizes the current status well.
He also passed on this posting, by a former flu researcher, Terry Jones, that while not providing that much in the way of new, breaking information, cuts away A WHOLE LOT of the bullshit.
As far as the exact, current state of things, (not including the late-breaking news reports that are more "late" than anything else, not to mention conflictual) I've found the often-updating Wikipedia page about the current outbreak to be the best summation, because it lists all the info on one page, with sources.
Terry Jones is also Twittering at @terrycojones. The current Twitter tags for the epidemic seem to be #H1N1 (which in itself is much more factual information than any media report) and #swineflu.
Here are some of the most important facts about epidemics in general, pulled from Terry Jones' blog posting, which I feel deserve repeating:
"The current virus is already known to be resistant to both amantadine and rimantadine, though oseltamivir is still effective."
"If you ask virologists what the probability is that there will be another pandemic, they’ll tell you it’s 1.0. It’s just a matter of time until it happens. it’s like a non-zero probability state in a Markov process.When it does happen, what you do in the first phase is critically important."
"The current WHO standard influenza test kit is not very useful in identifying this strain. They have issued instructions warning against false negatives."
"The acting-director of the CDC has already said: “There are things that we see that suggest that containment is not very likely.” That is a remarkably candid statement. I think it’s very clear that the cat is out of the bag. The question is how bad is it going to be. That’s impossible to tell right now, because we do not know what the virus will look like in the future, after it has had time to mutate and adapt inside humans.:
"The new virus has been popping up in various places in the US in the last days. I expect it will go global in the next couple of days, maximum."
"Instead of peaks in just the very young and the very old, there was a W shape, with a huge number of young and healthy people who would not normally die from influenza. There are various conjectures as to the cause of this. The current virus is also killing young and healthy adults."
"The social breakdown in a pandemic is extraordinary."
"History dictates that you should probably not believe anything any politician says about pandemic influenza. There has been a strong tendency to downplay risks. All sorts of factors are at work in communicating with the public. You can be sure that everything officially said by the WHO or CDC has been very carefully vetted and considered. There’s no particular reason to believe anything else you hear, either :-)" [emphasis mine]
"In conclusion, I’d say that the thing is largely out of our hands for the time being. We’re going to have to wait and see what happens, and make our best guesses along the way."
Facemasks don't prevent viruses. But, they do prevent spittle, fluids, and that sort of thing, which transmit viruses.
While I implicitly do not trust governments or leaders, I do trust the CDC and the WHO. They are run by scientists, by and large. If the CDC or the WHO approves a vaccine or a certain procedure, I would take it/follow it. I've done a little bit of reading about the spread of outbreaks, and it is most often that one person who slips past quarantine spreads the virus to a new location. You may hate needles, or believe some conspiracy about vaccines, but in taking the risk upon yourself by refusing treatment, you are putting the entire population you may contact at risk. Sorry--I know, but its how biology works. Put the species before yourself, this one time.
However, that being said, I do not trust FEMA in the slightest. Not that we are at that point--but just to juxtapose, while CDC is run by scientists and doctors, FEMA is run by politicians and Blackwater types, who would totally doom a portion (especially an "undesirable" portion) of the population to save themselves. Or at least, they would have their heads so far up their gold-bricking grafting asses as to not know hand sanitizer from napalm. I don't know how much has changed since the previous administration, but if that agency is anything like what it was in 2005-7, I would dodge those criminals. CDC are the folks who are going to save our asses, whereas FEMA are the ones hoarding virgins in the Dr. Strangelove mine-shaft bunkers. The really sad part about some conspiracy theories is that some are true. Remember I said that.
Okay--enough scaremongering for now. Really though: just pay attention, listen up, and don't believe rumors unless you get the facts from someone trustworthy. In lieu of that, cover your mouth, and wash your damn hands.
Predictions for 2012
5 years ago