I’ve called it swine flu but this is probably unfair.  All human influenza viruses are mixtures of human, bird, and pig virus.  The current terminology for the virus which is causing the current pandemic is the “Novel H1N1” virus. 

The incidence of this virus is still increasing, at least as of the data of one week ago.  At this point the mortality rate appears to be about the same as the usual seasonal influenza, or perhaps a bit higher. 

Supplies of the Novel H1N1 vaccine have just started to be released, but are still in short supply. 

I have seen no reports of safety issues regarding the vaccine.  The single dose vials contain a trace of thimerosal (a mercury based preservative) while the multi-dose vials have a larger amount. 

A recent New York Times article summarized the issues around the Novel H1N1 virus and vaccination, and stated that there were no adjuvants (substances in addition to virus or viral components that act to enhance the body’s immune response).  I have understood, however, that the vaccine does contain squalene, a substance commercially derived from shark liver oil.  Various commentators in the “alternative” medical world have reacted strongly against the inclusion of squalene, considering it to be toxic.  The World Health Organization has sought to allay these fears.  Their response may be found here.

The same NY Times article summarized the risk for Guillain-Barre syndrome (paralysis) from the (real) Swine Flu vaccine of 1976.  The risk has been estimated to be from 1 in 100,000 to as low as 1 in 1,000,000.  They contrast this with the risk of death from the flu of one in 8300 Americans.  I am uncertain as to the exact meaning of this last figure.  Does it refer to all Americans regardless of whether they have flu or not (eg another figure is 36,000 Americans die each year of the flu). 

As always, the decision to vaccinate or not to vaccinate should depend upon one’s age, medical condition, circumstances, etc.  But everyone can practice good hygiene, take adequate amounts of Vitamin D (see my article on influenza), and use common sense in terms of coming into contact with people who are sick during an epidemic.