Science takes aim at the swine flu
The world's response to the outbreak shows progress and problems: Scientists have more tools, but early detection remains difficult in some places.
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In the US, officials already have started moving vaccines out of stockpiles and to healthcare providers. At this point, the CDC has released about 25 percent of that stockpile.Skip to next paragraph
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If the outbreak becomes more serious than it currently appears, Dr. Besser says, "doctors will have what they need."
For all the technological progress, however, more needs to be done, say some specialists.
Though the technology now exists to respond quickly – reducing the time it takes to design and evaluate a new or modified vaccine, it will take money to put the technologies in place, says Dr. Hotez.
Early detection remains an issue in some parts of the world, as well. The outbreak's origins in Mexico, for example, are largely a mystery. "We do not know how long this virus has been circulating and capable of human-to-human transmission," says Ted Cohen, an assistant professor of medicine at Brigham and Women's Hospital in Boston. "Certainly, the wide geographic distribution of cases indicates that our detection systems were not able to contain the virus where it initially emerged."
"This delay undoubtedly has limited our ability to respond to this potential crisis with travel restrictions or others methods that might have potentially prevented the long-distance spread of this pathogen," he adds.
Lessons from the past also show clearly that keeping people well-informed and apprised of developments is the best thing to do. "But it's not a lesson all governments have learned," says David Ozonoff, a communicable-disease specialist at Boston University.
He points to Mexico, which, he says, has been "authoritarian on one hand and not very informative on the other" with the public. The situation is compounded by a general lack of public trust in anything government officials say, he adds.
The United Nations' World Health Organization (WHO) generally has done a good job responding to the outbreak, Dr. Ozonoff says, but has underplayed the outbreak's severity. During the weekend, it hovered at 3 on the agency's 1-to-6 scale – even when it was clear by the scale's definitions that the outbreak was a 4 or 5, he says. "There are consequences" to higher ratings, he says, which include trade and travel restrictions. Today, the WHO raised the severity of the outbreak to Level 4.