Possible "Swine Flu" Pandemic on the Horizon?
In what seems like something out of a movie, a new flu outbreak threatens to cause panic across the U.S.
As of April 25, roughly 86 people in Mexico have died from a new strain of Swine Flu, and more than 1,000 Mexicans are currently ill. As the situation in Mexico reaches crisis level, the sickness has already begun to work its way across the American/Mexico border.
When I sat down to write this post, there were 8 Americans who had come down with Swine Flu. As I check the Center for Disease Control and Prevention web site, I see that they’ve added 3 more cases since I began, bringing the total to 11. Full Report
So far all of the people who’ve contracted the illness in the U.S. recovered, but that does not mean all is well. The frightening thing about this new strain of Swine Flu, is that unlike most other flu strains, it seems to a target young, able bodied people just as easily as the old and very young.
World health officials worry the swine flu outbreak in Mexico could unleash a global flu epidemic. (Guillermo Gutierrez/AP)
A case not reflected yet in the CDC statistics is that of a elementary school in Queens, NY, where an outbreak of flu has spread. New York’s Bureau of Communicable Diseases said preliminary tests are likely to show that eight out of the nine cases of the virus found there are probably swine flu. The results are expected back on Monday, April 27.
So, what is Swine Flu? According to the CDC:
Swine Influenza (swine flu) is a respiratory disease of pigs caused by type A influenza that regularly cause outbreaks of influenza among pigs. Swine flu viruses do not normally infect humans, however, human infections with swine flu do occur, and cases of human-to-human spread of swine flu viruses has been documented.
From December 2005 through February 2009, a total of 12 human infections with swine influenza were reported from 10 states in the United States. Since March 2009, a number of confirmed human cases of a new strain of swine influenza A (H1N1) virus infection in California, Texas, and Mexico have been identified. An investigation into these cases is ongoing.
TIJUANA, MEXICO – APRIL 25: Pharmacy workers wait for customers while wearing surgical masks along Revolucion Avenue April 25, 2009 in Tijuana, Mexico. The World Health Organization (WHO) warned countries around the world on Saturday to be on alert for any unusual flu outbreaks after a unique new swine flu virus implicated in possibly at least 60 human deaths in North America. (Photo by Sandy Huffaker/Getty Images) Copyright 2009 Getty Images. All rights reserved.
Although many people seem to feel that Swine Flu is fairly new, it is not new at all. On February 5, 1976, 19-year-old Pvt. David Lewis of Ashley Falls, Mass. informed his drill instructor at Fort Dix that he wasn’t feeling well. When asked if he wanted to see a doctor, he refused, saying he thought he’d be alright. 24 hours later, young David Lewis was dead.
After two weeks, doctor’s examining David’s body revealed that he was killed by something called Swine Influenza. Five fellow soldiers that served with David were hospitalized, and quickly diagnosed with the same flu. Government doctors hastily returned to Fort Dix, and tested everyone there. They found to their shock that over 500 people on the base had become infected, without becoming terribly ill. Any disease that could spread that rapidly could easily become an epidemic.
People became panicked, and the Government under President Gerald Ford scrambled to come up with a plan. Doctors were very concerned about the immense cost of formulating and distributing a mass inoculation, yet they knew that if they did nothing and pandemic broke loose, they’d be held responsible for not acting quickly enough. Most of the medical community eventually rallied and convinced President Ford to ask Congress to fund a Nationwide Inoculation against Swine Flu.
Many people felt that this was an overreaction, including members of Congress. Experts claimed that this would not reach plague status, as it had been contained quickly enough. However, the president and his experts prevailed, and on Aug. 12 Congress put up the money to get the job done. 33-year-old physician for the Department of Health, Education and Welfare, Dr. W. Delano Meriwether was put in charge, and was given the incredible task of getting all 220 million Americans inoculated against swine flu by the end of the year.
By October 1, thousands of doctors and nurses across the Country began in inoculations. Just as people started to feel relieved that an outbreak had been avoided, reports began coming in that people were dying as a result of the vaccine. People in many States began reporting the onset neurological disorders after being vaccinated, including the rare Guillain-Barre syndrome. The Swine Flu panic was replaced with the Swine Flu Vaccine panic.
After 40 million people received the Swine Flu vaccine, the Government suspended the program. Soon thereafter, citizens began to file suit against the medical professionals as well as the U.S. Government. However, Former Secretary of Health, Education and Welfare Joseph Califano, who was quoted in the book titled “The Epidemic That Never Was,” claims that it could not have been avoided. That the Government had to err on the side of caution. That said, he also referred to it as a “fiasco”.
As crazy as all of that sounds, that wasn’t even the very first occurrence of Swine Flu in North America. The previous outbreak, also known at that time as “Spanish Flu”, happened right after WW1, and was far more serious. It was the plague of 1918-19, which took 500,000 American lives and 20 million worldwide. It was originally thought to have come from soldiers in China who contracted the disease, and spread it to Europe, then bringing it back the U.S. Researches later discovered, however, that likely, the disease originated in the U.S., and was carried to Europe where the disease spread.
The rare strain of H1N1 that killed millions world wide in 1918-1919 shared many characteristics with the Swine Flu of today. It seemed to attack the young and able bodied. It spread quickly. It had potential to be deadly.
Because there are human cases associated with an animal influenza virus, and because of the geographical spread of multiple community outbreaks, plus the somewhat unusual age groups affected, these events are of high concern.
TIJUANA, MEXICO – APRIL 25: Pedestrians wear surgical masks along Constitution Avenue April 25, 2009 in Tijuana, Mexico. (Photo by Sandy Huffaker/Getty Images) Copyright 2009 Getty Images. All rights reserved.
So, what can be done? It appears that all of the proper steps are being taken to insure that the spread of Swine Flu is contained. The Mexican Government has closed all public schools and buildings in Mexico City for 10 days to prevent more infection. Soldiers are handing out masks and asking people to avoid kissing each other on the cheek (traditional custom) until the outbreak subsides.
What can you do?
From the CDC:
There are everyday actions people can take to stay healthy.
- Cover your nose and mouth with a tissue when you cough or sneeze. Throw the tissue in the trash after you use it.
- Wash your hands often with soap and water, especially after you cough or sneeze. Alcohol-based hands cleaners are also effective.
- Avoid touching your eyes, nose or mouth. Germs spread that way.
Try to avoid close contact with sick people.
- Influenza is thought to spread mainly person-to-person through coughing or sneezing of infected people.
- If you get sick, CDC recommends that you stay home from work or school and limit contact with others to keep from infecting them.
There are a variety of theories about how this all started. They range from completely innocent to conspiratorial. In a future post, I’ll be outlining the many views on the origins of this most recent Swine Flu outbreak. Is it similar to the bird flu scare? Is bird flu still a threat?
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