Did we overreact to swine flu threat?

May 4, 2009 5:44:28 PM PDT
After a week of constantly breaking swine flu updates, we're seeing some good news, developments which encourage some of us to ask if all this was an overreaction. [SWINE FLU: Symptoms, questions and answers and more]
[SCHOOL CLOSINGS: Map of closings related to swine flu]
[INTERACTIVE: Interactive guides to spread of swine flu]
[CHAT TRANSCRIPT: Questions answered by local expert]
[TRAVEL ALERT: What the CDC wants you to know ]

There are new cases worldwide and some here in the greater Houston area. But just one person died from swine flu in the United States, a todder brought here from Mexico. About 100 people die every day from the regular flu in the United States, though, and no one even talks about that. So with the benefit of hindsight, what's going on?

At Harvard Elementary School, no one is sliding. No one is climbing. It's all because of one probable case, sending all the kids home last Thursday.

Harvard PTA President Jeannie Moss is surviving.

"We're really hoping we get a call soon," she said.

We talked to her before HISD reopened the school for Tuesday and at that time, a two-week vacation for her son was going to be a little tough on mom.

"It sort of feels like an over-reaction, but I don't think it's anything the school has any control over," she said.

They didn't really. The CDC told schools with probable cases to close and schools all over did.

"It's the classic catch-22," said Dr. David Persse with the Houston Health Department. "The better we do our job and the more we keep the numbers down, the more likely we are to be criticized for overreacting in the future."

"Based on the trend, we will see an increase until maybe mid-May, which is normal," said UT-Houston researcher Ed Hsu, PhD. "My gut feeling is that it will go away in about two weeks."

Dr. Hsu says the swine flu is acting like every other flu, which has a small peak in May, disappears all summer and re-emerges in the fall. Given that, he says we should just calm down a little bit.

"If we rely on this data to help us make decisions, perhaps it will go the other way. It should go down instead of going up," he said.

But that's easy to say now. Remember a week ago when swine flu was so unknown and potentially so deadly? What seems like overreaction today seemed like not enough to some just 8 days ago.

"If we save one child's life, you can criticize me for being over-reactive in Houston all you want," said Dr. Persse.

The bottom line, Dr. Persse tells us, is that numbers in Houston are likely down because of what health officials did and the fact that Houstonians listened.

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