Swine Flu Is A Pandemic Now!!! Panic!! Or, In Houston, Don't

The World Health Organization has declared swine flu to be a pandemic, the first in over 40 years.

It's doing it mostly on the basis of a sharp growth in cases in Australia, Japan and Chile, but just about every story on the subject -- at least in America -- mentions Houston.

We were, of course, the first American city to have a swine-flu death; we also had Travis Elementary close after a bunch of kids came down with stuff, some of which included swine flu.

But all that seems to have calmed down lately -- just as experts said it would, before a possible resurgence.

So is the city going to change its swine-flu plans now that it's a pandemic? Cancel Astro games? Tell HISD they need to shut down summer school? Order citizens driving within three blocks of Travis Elementary to wear masks?

Not really, Health Department spokeswoman Kathy Barton tells Hair Balls.

There are "no changes in our current strategies" because of the announcement, she said. "We would alter our strategies based upon local circumstances. The WHO announcement relates to the worldwide prevelance of h1n1." ("h1n1" is the PC term for swine flu.)

She notes that the city Houston area is still adding cases almost daily -- 315 as of the latest count -- but, obviously, the cases are not fatal.

Porfilio Villareal of the department says the city has been acting under "pandemic conditions" already.

"Houston, as the rest of country, has been operating its pandemic flu plan for weeks and enhanced surveillance will continue for H1N1. Therefore we have taken the same actions that would be taken place if we had had the declaration," he tells Hair Balls..

Still, Barton urges residents to take precautions: "It is important for people to continue to practice good social hygiene," she says.

Do we really need an pandemic for that advice to be given? Probably, unfortunately.

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Richard Connelly
Contact: Richard Connelly