The press is taking the time to remind people that in 1976 the United States went overboard in its preparations for a possible swine flu pandemic. The reason for this is obvious. However, these comparisons are inappropriate and reveal a not-surprising lack of depth on behalf of the people reporting the news.
A few quick points:
In 1976, a single American soldier died of swine H1N1 at Fort Dix, New Jersey. Some 500 other GIs had swine antibodies, but no other GI had contracted the virus.
In April 2009, to date the WHO believes at least 60 Mexicans have died of the disease and almost a thousand cases are suspected.
In 1976, a vaccine was developed in a record period of time. In 2009, there is no vaccine commercially available to combat H1N1 swine flu. However, it is absolutely critical that Mexicans and people in the American Southwest get vaccinated against seasonal H1N1, so the swine virus does not get the chance to reassort with human H1N1 and produce a Tamiflu-resistant strain any faster than is possible.
In 1976, then-President Gerald Ford had the support of the entire scientific community in his quest to quickly develop a vaccine. In 2009, we will see how quickly concensus can be formed on a similar course of action.
We have a bona-fide situation on our hands, and only time will tell if this virus can be contained or if it will spread. It has already spread across the Mexican border and into two American states. We do not have any idea at this time how many American cases there truly are. Only the naive would assume that the US is capped at seven cases.