Swine Flu: True Pandemic or Panic?

Apr 29th, 2009 | By | Category: Health

After spending a few days doing research, I’ve decided that putting the feared pandemic of the Swine flu into perspective is the best thing we can all do. Before I explain what I mean by that, perhaps we should discuss the flu in question.

Swine flu is a flu that is usually passed from direct contact to swine to a human host. It is a dangerous and very aggressive flu that does have the potential to cause death in a large number of those infected. The best remembered incident of this flu is the break out of it in the 1970s.

However, here’s the problem. The flu that began in Mexico and is now spreading throughout several countries is NOT swine flu. This particular strain could easily be called Avian flu or even a really strong influenza strain of the common variety.

Let’s clarify: The flu that is spreading now is a new strain. It has characteristics, according to the CDC (Center for Disease Control), of all three so far mentioned flus. It is a combination of swine, avian, and human flu. Therefore, it’s technical name of H1M1 is a better name for the illness. This combination has never been seen and not much is known about how it will impact us other than it is responsible for several deaths in Mexico. It is also known that this particular strain is passed human to human-not bird to human or swine to human.

Before we panic, however, let’s look as some facts:

Living in Mexico is different than living in the United States or other countries. Each country has its own method of health care, level of living conditions, altitudes, and a host of many other factors. The fact that Mexico has a high altitude suggests that there may be more people there prone to respiratory infections. As such, this is a group that is more prone to other infections as well since those with respiratory illness are already combating a weakened immune system. This is true of anyone with any type of infection or other illness already present. And, this could explain why the H1M1 virus is wreaking havoc in Mexico whereas it seems more mild in other locations.

36,000 people die each year from influenza. The fact that only a small fraction of that number has died with H1M1 should be a comfort to those who are fearful of it. This doesn’t diminish the impact of those deaths as no death is less important based on how it occurred, but it does really put things into perspective when thinking about the numbers who die each year from common strains of flu.

Yes, the age range of this flu is different. However, that doesn’t necessarily mean much. Usually the old, sick or very young are among the highest number of fatalities due to flu. This flu has a median age of 21-45. That is unusual, but not unheard of—after all, when’s the last time you panicked over cancers that affect this same age group more than others? Do you walk around in fear of developing cancer just because it CAN happen, or do you do those things which may prevent it ever happening?

Now, let’s talk about what is being done:

Travel advisories are being issued for Mexico. This is because it is the hardest hit with the most number of people sick. It isn’t because anyone actually fears going to Mexico. Viruses need hosts to survive. The less hosts available, the less likely this will be a long term threat. Basically,the travel advisory is only in place to allow the virus to run its course with the fewest number of people around to play host.

Certain countries are banning the import of U.S. beef and pork. This is an unnecessary precaution and the result of panic. No swine here or anywhere else in the world has been reported as being infected. This illness is not being transmitted from animal to human in any way. So far, it is only being passed from human to human as is the more common flu. The only thing such bans will produce is a harder economic crunch for even more countries in a domino effect. This will be due to the simple laws of supply and demand that will change with the dynamics of an unnecessary ban on U.S. pork and beef. Besides, how did cattle enter the picture as H1M1 has absolutely nothing to do with swine?

The CDC and the WHO (World Health Organization) have moved H1M1 to a level 4 threat. This just means that it has potential to be highly contagious and may pose a higher risk of mortality than other illnesses if left to run rampant without treatment. That’s it.

Schools who have encountered this flu shut down for disinfecting purposes. This is a method of containment as children often spread a virus faster than any other group of people. They simply do not practice good hand washing and are often the ones not covering their mouths and noses when sneezing and coughing. That’s why children catch more colds and other illnesses.

Everyone complaining of having flu like symptoms are potential cases. These are the suspected cases that you hear so much about. However, this does not translate to confirmed cases. Cultures are taken for testing. The results of a culture are the only way of knowing if the illness is H1M1 or not conclusively. Not every sore throat, achy muscle, or cough is going to be H1M1’s fault. Keep in mind that suspected does not mean confirmed.

The border is being patrolled and the possibility of it closing is being considered. However, this does little to stop the spread of any illness as this is a human to human virus that has an incubation period of around 6 to 7 days.

What you can do:

Don’t panic. Don’t worry needlessly. This flu is like all others in that it can more easily attack a host if that host is worn down by stress, worry and other illness. These things lower your immune system’s resistance and increase your likelihood of contracting the very illness you worried about.

Do get plenty of sleep. Eat a balanced diet and exercise. These activities raise the ability of your immune system to ward off viruses and other illnesses.

Do wash your hands often. Germs can often live on our skin and be unnoticed. Frequent washing with a mild, antibacterial soap can do wonders to eliminate them.

If you really want to ensure a lessening of the germs you carry around based on what you touch throughout the day, use a hand sanitizer. These will help in between washings and give you a little peace of mind.

Don’t touch your eyes, nose or mouth. These are favorite entry points of viruses. If you must touch any of these areas, make sure you wash your hands first.

If, despite all your efforts, you do begin to feel poorly, go see your doctor. Ask for a culture if you are concerned. Most of the time, you won’t have anything to worry about. It is still flu season and you may have only contracted the run of the mill variety.

If you do contract H1M1, it is curable. Just like any other virus, it does respond to treatment-which mainly includes the same as regular flu. Keep in mind that almost all flus kill because of dehydration and loss of important minerals and electrolytes. Just follow your doctor’s prescribed care plan and get lots of rest and fluids. Most won’t die from this illness. Or at least, not any more than would have with the more common variety by the time it is over.

Also, if you get sick, don’t entertain friends or go out in public as you will then help spread whatever virus you’ve managed to catch. Go to your doctors and take a break to care for you. That’s how you can help not only yourself, but everyone else as well.

Remember:

Keep the H1M1 virus in perspective. Panic helps no one, least of all you. By practicing some common sense and basic hygiene and avoiding highly crowded places, you should be just fine. This really isn’t a flu that seems to be unstoppable. It is relatively mild in the U.S. and other countries with most recovering completely. Very few will have serious complications when you see the full scope of the problem.

Reports today say there are about 100 cases of H1M1 in the U.S. Only one toddler has perished due to it and only five have required hospitalization. Everyone else has recovered or is recovering as they would from any other flu virus and will return to their normal lives as soon as they feel better.

Take care of you and you should be fine.

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