Nav: Home

Swine flu: Responsibility of individual cannot be ignored

April 28, 2009

On April 27, WHO raised its pandemic alert level from phase 3 to phase 4 after human cases of a novel H1N1 swine influenza A virus spread quickly around the world from its origin in Mexico. Concern over the virus--a hybrid of human, pig, and avian influenza--started mounting internationally last week following outbreaks of influenza-like illnesses in Mexico and other countries. As of April 28, according to WHO, Mexico had 26 laboratory confirmed human cases of swine influenza A (H1N1) with seven confirmed deaths. The USA had 40 confirmed cases with no deaths. Elsewhere, there were confirmed cases in Canada, UK, Spain, New Zealand, and Israel.

Swine influenza is a porcine respiratory disease that rarely infects humans. From December, 2005 to February, 2009, the USA had 12 cases of human infection with swine influenza. The outbreak in Mexico might have started as early as March 18, when authorities began detecting a surge in influenza-like illnesses in the country. Health officials initially thought they were seeing cases of seasonal influenza. But, on April 21, the US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention reported two isolated cases of a novel swine influenza in California. On April 24, Mexico announced that the same virus had been detected in the country's outbreak of influenza-like illness.

The Mexican Government has been swift to implement public health measures to try to contain the outbreak. On April 24, schools, museums, libraries, and theatres were closed in the capital. 6 million face masks were distributed to the public along with health advice to prevent the spread of infection. Public events were cancelled. Meanwhile, the USA declared a public health emergency and prepared for 12 million doses of oseltamivir to be delivered to states from federal stockpiles (the new virus has tested sensitive to oseltamivir and zanamivir). At the global level, WHO activated its 24 h emergency response room on April 24, which allows the agency to be in contact simultaneously with countries, institutions, partners, and relevant health authorities around the world to coordinate the response. The agency also convened an emergency committee to advise the Director-General on the outbreak.

The second meeting of that committee recommended raising the influenza pandemic alert level after the epidemiological pattern of the outbreak suggested that human-to-human transmission was occurring with the ability to cause community-level outbreaks. The world has moved closer towards a pandemic, but it is not yet inevitable. Crucially, containment of the outbreak is no longer feasible and countries should now be preparing to mitigate the effects of the virus on their populations.

Over the past 5 years, the international community has been preparing for an influenza pandemic in response to the threat posed by H5N1 avian influenza. National and regional responses to this threat have been variable. Transparency and continued communication between WHO, governments, health officials, the public, and the media, will be critical as the situation with swine influenza evolves.

Some countries are more prepared for this task than others. Of particular concern is the ability of low-income and middle-income countries to detect and mitigate the effects of this new virus on their populations. History has shown that developing countries are disproportionately affected by an influenza pandemic. In The Lancet in 2006, for example, Christopher Murray and colleagues used data from the 1918󈞀 Spanish influenza pandemic to predict that the next global influenza pandemic would kill 62 million people, with 96% of those deaths occurring in low-income and middle-income settings. Displaced populations, such as refugees, are especially at risk.

The public should expect further deaths from this swine influenza outbreak. The Lancet certainly expects the number of those infected to increase and the spread of infection to expand. Therefore, all recommendations made so far should be seen as provisional. We are passing through an unstable period in this outbreak's evolution. Every member of the public has a part to play in limiting the risk of a full-blown pandemic. Vigilance, and not alarm, is needed, with readiness to self-isolate oneself at home if an influenza-like illness develops. Such home isolation, combined with other measures of social distancing, are most likely to stop the spread of swine influenza. These actions could buy the necessary time to boost stockpiles of antivirals and develop a vaccine against this virus, which will inevitably take months rather than weeks to prepare and distribute. So far, the rapid responses by governments and international agencies have triggered effective mechanisms to protect the public. But the vital role and responsibility of the individual should not be ignored.


Related Influenza Articles:

Obesity promotes virulence of influenza
Obesity promotes the virulence of the influenza virus, according to a study conducted in mice published in mBio, an open-access journal of the American Society for Microbiology.
Influenza: combating bacterial superinfection with the help of the microbiota
Frenc researchers and from Brazilian (Belo Horizonte), Scottish (Glasgow) and Danish (Copenhagen) laboratories have shown for the first time in mice that perturbation of the gut microbiota caused by the influenza virus favours secondary bacterial superinfection.
Chemists unveil the structure of an influenza B protein
MIT chemists have discovered the structure of an influenza B protein called BM2, a finding that could help researchers design drugs that block the protein and help prevent the virus from spreading.
How proteins help influenza A bind and slice its way to cells
Researchers have provided new insight on how two proteins help influenza A virus particles fight their way to human cells.
Eating elderberries can help minimize influenza symptoms
Conducted by Professor Fariba Deghani, Dr. Golnoosh Torabian and Dr.
Mechanism to form influenza A virus discovered
A new study by Maria João Amorim's team, from the Gulbenkian Institute of Science, now reveals where the genomes of the influenza A virus are assembled inside infected cells.
Bat influenza viruses could infect humans
Bats don't only carry the deadly Ebola virus, but are also a reservoir for a new type of influenza virus.
New VaxArray publication on influenza neuraminidase quantification
InDevR Inc. announced publication of 'A Neuraminidase Potency Assay for Quantitative Assessment of Neuraminidase in Influenza Vaccines' in npj Vaccines.
Fighting mutant influenza
Another flu season is here, which means another chance for viruses to mutate.
Influenza vaccine delays are a problem for pediatricians
Uptake of influenza vaccine among children is low compared to other childhood vaccines, and missed opportunities for vaccination play an important role in this low uptake.
More Influenza News and Influenza Current Events

Trending Science News

Current Coronavirus (COVID-19) News

Top Science Podcasts

We have hand picked the top science podcasts of 2020.
Now Playing: TED Radio Hour

Climate Mindset
In the past few months, human beings have come together to fight a global threat. This hour, TED speakers explore how our response can be the catalyst to fight another global crisis: climate change. Guests include political strategist Tom Rivett-Carnac, diplomat Christiana Figueres, climate justice activist Xiye Bastida, and writer, illustrator, and artist Oliver Jeffers.
Now Playing: Science for the People

#562 Superbug to Bedside
By now we're all good and scared about antibiotic resistance, one of the many things coming to get us all. But there's good news, sort of. News antibiotics are coming out! How do they get tested? What does that kind of a trial look like and how does it happen? Host Bethany Brookeshire talks with Matt McCarthy, author of "Superbugs: The Race to Stop an Epidemic", about the ins and outs of testing a new antibiotic in the hospital.
Now Playing: Radiolab

Speedy Beet
There are few musical moments more well-worn than the first four notes of Beethoven's Fifth Symphony. But in this short, we find out that Beethoven might have made a last-ditch effort to keep his music from ever feeling familiar, to keep pushing his listeners to a kind of psychological limit. Big thanks to our Brooklyn Philharmonic musicians: Deborah Buck and Suzy Perelman on violin, Arash Amini on cello, and Ah Ling Neu on viola. And check out The First Four Notes, Matthew Guerrieri's book on Beethoven's Fifth. Support Radiolab today at