H1N1 across the globe
In recent weeks, this virus has garnered a flurry of worldwide attention.
As early as April 24, reports began to emerge of an influenza-like illness.
First detected in the United States and Mexico, the situation evolved rapidly as days passed.
In response, the World Health Organization (WHO) moved quickly to classify the outbreak as one of high concern.
Soon after, laboratory-confirmed influenza cases continued to appear in countries across the globe. At this time, a public health emergency of international concern was officially declared.
April 29 marked the WHO’s latest move in which the organization pushed the pandemic alert level to 5, indicating that substantial risk of a pandemic exists.
In the Laurier community, this threat led to the implementation of WLU’s own Influenza Pandemic Response Plan.
“Laurier has had a response plan for a couple of years,” explained Kevin Crowley, associate director of news and editorial services at Wilfrid Laurier University.
“It is two-fold in that the university has its own plan of action, while also working closely with the public health unit of Waterloo.
“When Mexican officials and WHO started talking about this particular influenza strain, that’s when Laurier brought its response team together and began providing information to students on the website,” said Crowley.
What you need to know about H1N1
H1N1 is a human virus genetically similar to influenza viruses that are found in animals, namely birds and pigs.
To date, questions remain as to the origins of this particular strain. Currently, scientists assume that two of the influenza viruses common in swine came together in a single cell within a host animal, exchanged genes, and resulted in a new strain.
This strain then went on to affect humans. The H1N1 virus now appears to be more adaptive to humans, as human-to-human spread is occurring.
Who is affected?
H1N1 has been described as seemingly atypical in nature. This is due to its effect on otherwise healthy young adults – an unusual age group to be impacted by influenza.
Many cases of H1N1 flu have been mild, though the death toll is steadily rising.
On April 28, a 39-year-old woman from Alberta became the first Canadian to die in relation to the virus.
To date the WHO has not recommended the restriction of regular travel or closure of borders. Nevertheless, one challenge posed by the virus is its ability to transfer from person to person even in the absence of apparent symptoms.
As a result, tactics such as border guarding or thermal imaging have been rendered largely ineffective. The Public Health Agency of Canada has just recently lifted a travel warning against non-essential travel to the country of Mexico.
On a global scale, response to the continued spread of the virus has varied in severity.
While many public officials have been cautioning against an overreaction to the situation, some countries have adopted extreme precautions.
For instance, Egypt ordered the slaughter of all of the nation’s swine. As a result, the country received a lashing from the international community, who labelled such actions as opposed to the logistics of science.
Canada has not been exempt from the wrath of H1N1.
In fact, after pigs on a central Alberta farm were confirmed to have contracted the H1N1 virus from an infected worker, many countries responded by placing restrictions on the import of pork and pork products.
These developments come despite insistence from the WHO that H1N1 is not food-borne, and cannot be contracted from the consumption of properly cooked meat products.
China has also been the subject of criticism for their actions, which have included imposing seven days of quarantine on people within the country suspected of having come in contact with the virus.
130 passengers who had been aboard a flight with a man determined to be China’s first case of the H1N1 flu have all been quarantined.
Whether or not such measures are justified continues to be the subject of ongoing debate.
Historically, influenza outbreaks have led to both disastrous death tolls and costly public health overreactions.
For now, the potential spread and impact of today’s H1N1 virus remain uncertain.
By the numbers:
9830 total cases worldwide
79 deaths worldwide
40 countries with reported cases
800 SARS deaths worldwide
500 hogs culled on a farm in Alberta
1,700 hogs in quarantine in Alberta
40 million people killed by the 1918 Spanish flu, also caused by a strain of the H1N1 virus
40 million Americans inoculated in 1976 amid fear of a new flu pandemic
1 American died from the 1976 “epidemic that never was”
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