By LAWRENCE K. ALTMAN, M.D., The New York TimesAs the three-month-old outbreak of swine flu raises havoc during the winter season in the Southern Hemisphere, officials in the United States are carefully seeking clues from there to deal with its likely return in this country in the fall, before a vaccine can protect large numbers of people.
Although much about the swine flu pandemic and the virus remains unknown, experts say this outbreak has exposed several weaknesses in the world’s ability to respond to the sudden emergence of a widespread illness.
Over all, the pandemic’s severity has been “moderate” compared with past influenza pandemics, the World Health Organization says, although it has spread with “unprecedented speed” to at least 168 countries. And although influenza typically strikes in colder months, the swine flu virus, A(H1N1), has swept through summer camps in the United States and Canada. That pattern has led to the prevailing belief that many more people will get swine flu than seasonal influenza this fall and winter, but that the country could face outbreaks of both strains, perhaps at different times.
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