History Department
History Department

Prof. David Oshinsky gives historical perspective on H1N1 (Swine) flu

Mon, May 4, 2009

Professor Oshinsky, the Jack S. Blanton Chair in History and distinguished teaching professor, who won the 2006 Pulitzer prize for his book, Polio: An American Story, gained much insight on this topic while writing his book. In it, he discusses the Spanish flu pandemic of 1918-19, which is what the present swine flu is being compared to.

In an interview with Austin-American Statesman staff writer Jody Seaborn, he said. "If you’re looking at the specter of 1918 it started just like this, as a flu that came about this time of year and that was relatively mild.” So what is there to fear? “It sort of disappeared for a while, then roared back in a somewhat different form with a vengeance in the fall, and that’s when it became a killer.”

The flu sickened 20 to 40 percent of the world’s population and 675,000 Americans--at a time when the U.S. population was approximately 105 million. That’s right. The swine flu could fade out for a couple of months then re-emerge stronger and more deadly during the months with weather more favorable for flu transmission.

What are we to do? Oshinsky says we should remember that flu viruses are unpredictable, but that the probability of this flu re-emerging is limited. The chances are especially limited when the current understanding of flu viruses is infinitely more sophisticated than it was 90 years ago. There is no need to panic. Oshinsky says that any hiatus the swine flu virus might take over the summer only buys doctors more time to work on developing a vaccine.

Indeed, the answers to all of our questions might lie in the hands of time. If there is anything to be scared of, a new October might bear it all out.

By Trevence Mitchell

Related Links:
More on Professsor David M. Oshinsky
University of Texas emergency information on H1N1 flu
Read the Austin-American Statesman story...

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