Can you give an update on the swine flu situation?
Things are moving so quickly with this situation that by the time our response gets to press, some aspects may have changed. But here is our update as of press time.
The H1N1 flu virus is a form of influenza that infected pigs, but underwent a slight change, making it capable of infecting humans. The letters H and N are codes for antigenic markers on the virus, and H1N1 indicates subcategories. Some previous epidemics have had either an H or an N component, so older people are more likely to have met these markers before and have some elements of immunity. The current strain seems to have caused more problems for younger people, and especially pregnant women.
The severity of the disease caused by H1N1 appears to be less than that of the 1918 pandemic, and more of the order of the 1957 outbreak.
The major factor in controlling a pandemic is the development of a vaccine. The methodology utilized will likely be the same as that in producing seasonal influenza vaccines, though newer technologies are being studied. The World Health Organization (WHO) noted that a vaccine will probably not be ready for general distribution until sometime this fall.
We have seen a proliferation in the emotional rhetoric of the antivaccine lobby, even one paper suggesting the WHO was going to make the vaccine mandatory in 194 countries at “gunpoint.” Such talk is ridiculous. The availability may be such that it will be difficult to obtain the vaccination, even should you wish to get it.
In the meantime, we would do well to follow basic preventive measures, such as:
1. Stay home if you have a respiratory infection.
2. Wash your hands frequently, especially after sneezing or coughing into them.
3. Carefully dispose of tissues used to smother a sneeze or cough.
4. Reduce kissing, hugging, and close contact with others in crowded settings. And again, use hand sanitation frequently.
These simple measures will help to protect you and reduce the risks of transmission.