August 18, 2009 H1N1 Swine Flu
The swine flu (H1N1) has been the subject of much media attention for the past six months because it has been spreading quickly and the World Health Organization has declared it a "pandemic." First, to clarify, for a disease to earn the title of "pandemic," it does not necessarily mean that "tens of thousands" or "millions" of people have become infected. This particular flu, indeed, may reach "epidemic" proportions, but it has not done so yet. A particular flu virus (like the swine flu) earns the pandemic label by being an "epidemic" having spread across multiple continents and countries throughout the world. As of August 13, 2009, 447 people in the United States have died from the swine flu.
The swine flu may well, in time, infect millions of people, but viruses are unpredictable and fickle. This one may end up remaining mild and burn itself out without killing millions of people like the Spanish Flu of 1918 did. The Spanish flu is believed to have killed some 50-100 million people worldwide, but keep in mind that much more is now understood about killer influenza viruses, and at the same time, medical treatment options have vastly improved since the early 1900s.
The swine flu poses greater health threats to people who already have compromised immune systems, who have respiratory diseases or other underlying infirmities. Pregnant persons must be particularly careful, those who are obese have increased risk and persons with diabetes or asthma are also more vulnerable. And it is these people who will be given vaccination priority along with health care workers and public safety personnel.
As I previously stated, the swine flu causes relatively minor symptoms in the majority of those infected, but there is the chance that the virus may mutate and become more dangerous. The virus may also change to become even less dangerous or die out altogether - no one knows for sure at this time. But since it is a new virus, it has to be reckoned with and treated as a potentially serious health threat world-wide. It is interesting to note that while the swine flu virus is relatively mild at this time, of the people who have died so far, approximately one third of them were relatively healthy and young to middle-aged.
As of this writing, there is no vaccination ready for the public. It is anticipated that vaccinations, which are still in the developmental stage, will be ready by mid to late October. By that time, climate conditions will have made it easier for the virus to survive and transfer. Schools are also now open, so the opportunity for the virus spreading has increased. In other words, the vaccination process will be a bit "behind the curve" to the extent that the number of flu cases will likely increase exponentially during the next 30-60 days - while the population still waits for the vaccination to become available.
Prevention is the best safeguard against the swine flu. This involves washing hands frequently, staying away from infected persons, getting enough rest and eating properly. People should avoid touching their eyes with unwashed hands, and the same goes for other bodily areas (like the nose, particularly, and ears) where the virus can prosper and replicate. There are many ways to get a virus in any event, but if this one becomes particularly dangerous, people might even have to resort to "social distancing" practices, meaning that they stay away from high concentrations of people until the pandemic fades out.
There are two final points to keep in mind. The first is that every year some 36,000 to 40,000 people in the United States die each year from the flu, so unless the swine flu substantially surpasses those numbers, it will otherwise be a relatively insignificant disease. The second point is that some members of the populations oppose vaccinations and they have their reasons. I plan to be vaccinated against the swine flu as will most of the fire and police personnel in the Ceres Department of Public Safety. I can only advise you to research the pros and cons of the vaccination program and then decide what is best for you and your family members. I wish you all to be healthy and safe in the coming months.