Since the H1N1 “swine” flu virus appeared in the early spring of 2009, “flu-off season,” our country and the rest of the world has been anxiously awaiting its fate.
Since the H1N1 “swine” flu virus appeared in the early spring of 2009, “flu-off season,” our country and the rest of the world has been anxiously awaiting its fate. According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), the 2009-2010 flu season officially begins October 4th.
Just six weeks after surfacing in March ‘09, H1N1 reached the World Health Organization’s (WHO) pandemic status, partially due to the fact that most people do not have immunity to the particular strain. The WHO’s announcement, and the subsequent media hype caused mass panic, global anxiety and the revival of the surgical mask as an everyday accessory.
The H1N1 virus follows a similar pathology to the well-known seasonal flu; but is generally less severe and can include vomiting and diarrhea. In a typical year, five to twenty percent of the US population contracts seasonal flus, leading to about 36,000 related deaths (between 200,000 and 500,000 deaths worldwide). Swine flu has proven far less severe than earlier expected; since its debut, the CDC has reported approximately 40,000 confirmed cases in the US and nearly 600 related fatalities.
About 70 percent of H1N1 hospitalizations have been those who report one or more medical conditions, and thus considered “high risk” for serious flu-related complications. The “high risk” group includes pregnant women, diabetics, or those with heart disease, asthma, kidney disease or other immune-compromising conditions. Another point to remember is that unlike the seasonal flu virus, adults older than 64 do not yet appear to be at increased risk of H1N1 related complications.
Vaccines are one of the most powerful public health methods of prevention. And, yes, the CDC and scientists in the public and private sector are currently working to produce the H1N1 vaccine. The CDC’s chief of H1N1 Vaccine Task Force, Jay Butler, MD, estimates that the vaccine will begin distribution by the first week of October and inoculations will be available shortly after. They also recommend that “high risk” groups (mentioned above) are prioritized in receiving the vaccine, but do not anticipate a shortage of doses necessary for general vaccination. The CDC has a specific page dedicated to answeringvaccine questions.
To stay updated on this year’s flu season, WHO’s webpage at http://www.who.int/en/ as well as the CDC’s webpage athttp://www.cdc.gov/.