This spring and summer have been full of news stories of the second wave of the swine flu. The human infection patterns of this new flu strain the vulnerability of young people in apparently good health, the reach of the virus long past typical flu season, the fast spread of the virus globally have raised fears that this could be the beginning of a pandemic.

Reports first emerged in March out of Mexico of a town’s population sickened by an unknown respiratory illness. The earliest known onset of an H1N1 case occurred Mar. 17 in Mexico, and the earliest US case was identified Mar. 28. Most cases have been concentrated in the US, Mexico, and Canada.

Within a month, the World Health Organization (WHO) issued its disease outbreak warning and declaration of a “public health emergency of international concern.” On June 11, the WHO raised the worldwide pandemic alert to Phase 6, the highest level possible. Within the next few months, with global travel and international trade, the flu virus spread across the world. Countries conducted lab tests to verify the presence of the virus in m any struck ill but stopped doing mass testing once the virus outpaced the work.

Human Defenses

One of the core fears in the face of the H1N1 is that because it is so new, the human body has no defenses against this. Because this virus has genetic materials from bird, swine and human flu viruses and has been shown to pass between humans and pigs, this raises the specter of a zoonotic virus able to potentially mutate into an extremely lethal and contagious pathogen. Historically, past flu pandemics have resulted in tens of millions of deaths.

Symptoms

H1N1 symptoms are very similar to those of the seasonal flu. These include fever, cough, sore throat, headaches, runny or stuffy nose, body aches, chills, fatigue, and sometimes diarrhea and vomiting. If a person who is pregnant suddenly feels shortness of breath, confusion, sudden dizziness, or chest or abdominal pains, or a lack of movement from the baby, she should contact her doctor right away, according to the CDC.

Business as Usual, Sort of

The official word currently seems to be to limit disruptions to both school and work unless the virus changes. Federal health and education officials have asked schools to segregate sick students and staff, and they are also to provide facemasks and other personal protective gear to limit the spread of infections.

Those who might travel have been asked to consult their doctors before doing so, particularly if they are traveling to areas with a wide prevalence of H1N1 infections. The CDC as identified the following groups as potentially vulnerable ones: children under 5, persons 65 and older, those under 18 receiving long-term aspirin therapy, pregnant women, children and adults “who have chronic pulmonary, cardiovascular, hepatic, hematological, neurologic, neuromuscular, or metabolic disorders,” and children and adults who have immunosuppression, including from medications or HIV.

H1N1 Flu Shots and Seasonal Shot

Currently, federal health professionals are suggesting that people get the seasonal flu shot and a two-shot immunization series to fight the “swine” flu; this latter vaccination is said to be most effective if given in two doses three weeks apart. By the end of September, the five vaccine manufacturers supplying the US should have 120 million doses available with more available in late October or November.

Public health agencies suggest that people maintain a healthy lifestyle by eating right, getting sufficient sleep, and reducing stress as well as maintaining general hygiene practices. Those who are on medical regimens should follow those closely. They should contact their family doctors if there are signs or symptoms of potential infection with the H1N1 virus.

Stay-at-Home Plans

Federal public health officials advise families to have a plan to care for sick family members. They advise having a stockpile of non-perishable food, emergency supplies, health supplies, water, and necessary medicines on hand, in case of a localized “social distancing” requirement.

Online Resources

Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC)
The Global Situation
http://wwwn.cdc.gov/travel/content/outbreak-notice/novel-h1n1-flu-global-situation.aspx
Novel H1N1 Flu (Swine Flu)
http://www.cdc.gov/h1n1flu/
US FLUVIEW (Weekly) Update
http://www.cdc.gov/h1n1flu/update.htm
Flu.gov
http://www.pandemicflu.gov/
World Health Organization (WHO)
Global Alert and Response / Pandemic (H1N1) 2009
http://www.who.int/csr/disease/swineflu/en/.

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