A well-informed society is the call of the day. This information, aside from local and global politics, economies, and peace building, must imperatively include appropriate responses to catastrophes, disasters, and pandemic illnesses. Of late, the novel H1N1, commonly referred to as “swine flu” developed to become pandemic. Unlike the common virus found among North American pigs that do not cause people to illness, H1N1 is terrifying because it can cause deaths (Centers for Disease Control and Prevention 2009).
The same source indicated that scientists, upon identifying the virus resulting from four viruses – “two genes from flu viruses that normally circulate in pigs in Europe and Asia and avian genes and human genes” – call it a “quadruple reassortant” virus. For purposes of distinction, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) has named the new virus “novel influenza A (H1N1)” to avoid confusing it with the common flu viruses and those that infect pigs (WebMD 2009). Swine flu is not at all new as a disease.
The report of WebMD (2009) indicated that as early as 1918-1919 a new H1N1 pandemic, called the “Spanish flu” (US Department of Health and Human Services 2008) appeared resulting into the death toll of tens of millions across the world. Flu pandemic appeared in 1957 recorded as the “pandemic of Asia” (Juozapaitis and Antoniukas 2007), another one in 1968, and the more recent one was in 1976 at Fort Dix in New Jersey that propelled the creation of an appropriate flu vaccine. It was the same H1N1 strain that broke out in 1918-1919.
After that event at Fort Dix, over 40 million Americans were vaccinated to protect them from what was feared to become an epidemic in the coming winter of that year. It did not break out since then until recently. It is claimed by the same source that the new swine flu is a different one from what broke out in the early part of the twentieth century and at Fort Dix. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (2009) reports that the initial cases of infection by H1N1 virus this year were first confirmed in Southern California and near Guadalupe County, Texas, both in the United States.
Suddenly, news from many countries all over the world reported cases of deaths and illnesses caused by H1N1 virus. As of July 6, 2009, the latest Update 58 on the pandemic resulting from H1N1 virus, in 114 countries throughout the world (ranging from countries beginning from letter A up to Y) based on the number of laboratory confirmed cases and deaths presented in a tabular form, there are cumulative cases at a grand total of 94,512 and a cumulative total deaths at a grand total of 429 (World Health Organization 2009).
Still from the same source, the newly confirmed ones since Update 58 reported 4591 cases and 47 deaths. All in all, the depressing number totals 99,103 cases and 476 deaths. Swine flu viruses are not known to infect people before the outbreak of H1N1 except those who were in contact with pigs. However, H1N1 as a pandemic, it means it can widely spread across the globe very quickly.
In addition, a pandemic takes place “when a new influenza virus emerges for which there is little or no immunity in the human population, begins to cause serious illness and then spreads…” (United States Department of Labor 2009). Its outbreak can tremendously affect and/or disrupt many aspects of human activities on health, economy, business, industry, travel and tourism, food, consumption, school, etc. Every person is at risk and business is disrupted heavily (United States Department of Labor, 2009).
Swine flu or H1N1 has been declared by the United States government as a public health emergency; the World Health Organization (WHO) has declared it pandemic (WebMD 2009). WHO emphasizes that it is not the just the severity of the virus itself that should alert people and countries but that all countries can expect the appearance of H1N1 and should necessarily be prepared for it. CDC (2009) specifically warns Americans “to prepare for a bad flu season this Fall” and that “It’s better to over prepare and look a little silly if nothing happens than to be unprepared for an emergency.
” From this caution, it is inferred that it applies to all people and countries. Many essential things are not yet known about H1N1: it is the kind of virus that is hardly predictable, when it will come, how long it is going to stay, if it is going to be deadly or simply mild, who are really at highest risk from the virus in terms of age brackets (WebMD 2009) and how it spreads between people so easily (Centers for Disease Control and Prevention 2009).
Given that many facts about H1N1 virus is yet being studied by scientists and considering further its unpredictability, people must get to be well-informed by themselves and by their respective governments on all information available for public consumption whenever they are released from the scientists and other authorities.