View H1N1 Swine Flu in a larger map
SFR's Special Swine Flu Correspondent Douglas Roberts, a "high performance computer scientist" based in Nambe who runs epidemic models, gives us the basics:
Disease outbreaks occur in the human population regularly. Seasonal influenza is a good example of this.
A pandemic disease outbreak, on the other hand, occurs when there is an outbreak of a new disease that the global population has never before been exposed to, and therefore no natural immunity to it exists in the population.
This means, basically, that everyone who is exposed to the disease will get it. The important questions therefore, are how infectious is the disease, and how virulent is it? These two factors will determine how fast it will spread and what the effects of the disease, such as the mortality rates, will be.
Neither of these two characteristics are yet known about the new swine flu variant which recently broke out in Mexico, but its spread is being carefully observed. This new swine flu has the potential to become a pandemic.
The above map is a "mashup", or web application hybrid that was quickly set up to allow contributors to help monitor the spread of this new influenza strain. The mashup was created by someone using the name "niman" who works in the field of biomedical research in Pittsburgh, PA.
This mashup has two components. The first is the map which at a glance shows the global reported incidents of reported cases of the disease. These incidents are categorized as "suspect", "confirmed", and "negative", and whether there was a death associated with the reported incident.
The second component is a twitter-like message board were individuals can leave comments containing new reports relative to the outbreak. These comments are providing an almost real-time update of the disease outbreak progression. (See this at the original link: here).
There is one thing to note about new pandemic diseases: By definition, there is no natural immunity to them, and there are no vaccines. Therefore, the best course of action is to slow the spread of the disease to give health care officials a chance to devise effective treatments.
Once a pandemic disease has entered the population and spread beyond a single location, it can never be completely contained. This is true now more than ever before, given today's jet-setting social network mobility patterns. Once a new pandemic has been introduced into the global population, it will eventually spread to every corner of the earth.
Including our enchanted little corner here in Santa Fe, NM.
For more technical information on containment methodologies for pandemic influenza, see http://www.pnas.org/content/105/12/4639.abstract
Another source of up to date information on the current swine influenza outbreak: