H1N1: The New Pandemic

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Everyone’s all abuzz with panic nowadays it seems. That’s mostly because after SARS and bird flu, another new strain of virus has managed to rear its head. The H1N1 influenza virus, more popularly known as the swine flu, exploded on to the global scene last April via a large-scale infection in Mexico City.

I think everyone’s seen the images on CNN a thousand time. Surgical-masked Mexicans crowding the hospitals with worrisome shots of full hospital beds. The Center for Disease Control and the World Health Organization raised their alert levels in hopes of catching and cutting off the infection at the bud, but it seems that cases have been reported all over the world. It seems that the current fatalities from disease are from Mexico but everyone is just expecting for the other shoe to drop.

To understand all of this panic, you need to have a little background. Influenza, or more popularly known as the flu, is probably one of the most infectious diseases out there. Airborne and highly contagious, it could spread like wildfire all across the world. Now you’re asking what’s the matter with a few people getting a bit of sniffles? That’s because this isn’t your ordinary flu.

A lot of the flu viruses we are exposed to have been in the human system for hundreds of years. We’ve managed to build an immunity to these strains. The big problem that’s got everyone running scared is the idea that a flu strain has crossed species. This is what happened with the bird flu and now, with the swine flu. The pigs and birds have also built up resistances to these diseases, however, since humans are not used to them, these strains of flu have a very large potential of being fatal.

The last time a large-scale flu epidemic raged around the world, electricity was just coming into vogue and cars were all Model Ts. The Spanish Flu Epidemic of 1918 literally set the bar for every modern disease in terms of casualties. Fifty to a hundred million people worldwide died over a period of two years from 1918 to 1920 as the disease spread worldwide. Following on the heels of the Great War, it was a one-two punch that killed an entire generation of young men and women. What everyone’s afraid of is this: the 1918 epidemic was a subtype of the H1N1 flu virus, the same virus that seems to have crossed over and become a real threat to humans.

This is why the CDC is keeping a close watch on Mexico and hoping all of the subsidiary cases worldwide aren’t indications of the beginning of some worldwide epidemic. The good news about this is that the disease is treatable. Medicine and vaccine production alerts have been sent out by the CDC and most pharmaceutical companies have started churning out oseltamivir and zanamivir.

The problem with that is the demand may outstrip the supply depending on the swine flu’s virulence. More common antiviral drugs are also available but they’re not exactly definitive cures. They serve to weaken the symptoms and give you a fighting chance and prevent some of the worse flu symptoms like diarrhea and vomiting.

So as the world waits and watches the situation in Mexico, it would be a good idea to take a few precautions. Regular hand washes and vitamins can help make sure you avoid the initial infection of the swine flu. Swine flu can’t be transmitted through food. Remember to just a take a few preventive measures and you can come through clean and healthy.

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