Sunday, May 17, 2009

Swine Flu Update: A NY fatality; a higher alert; a lawsuit

One could be forgiven--if one relied on mainstream media for all one's information--for thinking that the swine flu (AH1N1 virus) has lost its momentum and somehow grown weaker and less threatening since the initial and frightening coverage we saw a few weeks ago. But one would be horribly wrong in so assuming. Indeed, the virus remains deadly and has brought about (ongoing) school-closings in New York, as well as other affected states (all emphasis mine):
The assistant principal of a Queens school who had been hospitalized with swine flu died on Sunday evening. It was the first death in New York State from the outbreak and came as city officials announced that five more Queens schools had been closed.

The assistant principal, Mitchell Wiener, 55, had been “overwhelmed” by the illness despite treatment with an experimental drug, according to Ole Pedersen, a spokesman for Flushing Hospital Medical Center, where Mr. Wiener had been a patient since last Wednesday.
The World Health Organization is poised to raise the Pandemic Alert Level to 6--its highest--and Japan, with 93 confirmed cases, is rapidly closing schools and screening citizens:
In Japan, authorities ordered more than 1,000 schools and kindergartens in and near the cities of Kobe and Osaka to shut down. There were no confirmed cases in Tokyo.

Until Friday, Japan thought it had contained the virus after finding four infected people who had visited North America and flown home. It quarantined them and 50 other passengers, began sending medical workers to meet each flight arriving from North America to take temperatures of those on board and told visitors they would need to have their temperatures recorded daily.

But on Saturday, the authorities confirmed that a 17-year-old student in Kobe who had not been overseas was infected; as of Sunday evening, the number of recorded cases rose to 93 throughout Japan.

Kobe residents rushed to hospitals, where doctors in biohazard suits checked people for fever in tents set up in parking lots, Agence France-Presse reported. Transit workers and supermarket employees began wearing masks.
And Stateside, the widower of the first American casualty, 33-year-old special education teacher Judy Dominguez Trunnell, has taken the first steps toward filing a wrongful death lawsuit against Smithfield Foods:

Trunnell's petition seeks to investigate claims that the H1N1 outbreak began in Smithfield's massive pork operation in La Gloria and that the virus may have been caused in part by the conditions under which the farm operates, which the petition terms "horrifically unsanitary."

"This affected my family," says Trunnell, a paramedic who will now be raising two children on his own. "I need someone to be held accountable for this."

If Trunnell ends up following through with a wrongful-death suit against Smithfield Foods, it will most likely make legal history. No one has ever tried to hold a corporation responsible for the inadvertent creation of an infectious disease. Trunnell and his lawyer, Marc Rosenthal, do not claim that Smithfield purposely bred the virus, but rather that its Perote operation, which raises some 1 million pigs annually in close quarters, established the necessary conditions for the virus to arise. If Smithfield had taken better care of its farm, the petition claims, H1N1 might never have been introduced to the world.

"We think that the conditions down there are a recipe for disaster," says Rosenthal. "This type of virus is more likely to evolve and mutate in this much filth and putrescence. It's more than a mere coincidence that the first cases emerged right there in La Gloria."
Tonight, the families of Judy Dominguez Trunnell and Mitchell Wiener, who coincidentally had both devoted their lives to educating children, are in my thoughts--as of course are the many families worldwide who've been affected by this virus.

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