Swine Flu…Part 2

As stated in my last post regarding swine flu, the media coverage regarding this topic has been less than, how do you say…good.  Depending on what news outlet you have been watching when the swine flu (the H1N1 virus) 1st appeared, the claims being made have ranged from “the apocalypse is imminent” to “we are all going to be turned into zombies before the week is out”!

Although the H1N1 virus is far from eradicated, news coverage regarding the topic has certainly been on the decline over the last week.   Consequently, many individuals seem to be wondering “what is going on with the swine flu?”

Fear not dear reader…the Skeptical Samurai is here to provide you with an update!

So the biggest question that I have had people ask me (both personally and professionally) is “Do I still have to worry about the swine flu?”…

And the answer to that question is…

Maybe…

The H1N1 virus is a potentially serious health threat/concern.  But then again, as I pointed out in my last blog post regarding the swine flu, so is each and every new flu/viral strain that we (we being humans) encounter. 

So with that in mind, here are the facts as I understand them:

From the WHO

http://www.who.int/csr/disease/swineflu/updates/en/index.html

The WHO (the world health organization…not the band) has been releasing daily updates since April 24/09 in an effect to keep both practitioners and the general public up to date regarding the current global situation with the swine flu.  Currently, there have been approximately just under 10,000 reported cases, and only 79 deaths world-wide (http://www.who.int/csr/don/2009_05_19/en/index.html).  That is a mortality rate of just under 1% (about 0.8%).  Mexico has the highest rate for reported H1N1 virus infections at 3648 reported cases, with a total of 72 deaths, which is a mortality rate of just fewer than 2%.  In the grand scheme of things this is a relatively low mortality rate for a disease/illness.  However, it should be noted that what seems to be the most concerning fact about the H1N1 virus is that it is not just adversely effecting the immunocompromised (typically identified as children and the elderly), which is a common characteristic of the “annual” flu, but it is effecting young/healthy individuals. 

Now let us compare the above data to the swine flu of 1918.  Approx 500 million people where infected and approx 50 million died.  That is approximately a mortality rate of 10% (reference: http://emedicine.medscape.com/article/1673658-overview , which is considered to me a much higher/significant mortality rate.  So currently the H1N1 virus has had no were near the impact that the swine flu of 1918 had. 

Now please do not misunderstand me.  I am not attempting to downplay the potential severity of the situation (or the impact that the swine flu on those that have been directly affected by it), I am just attempting to deliver the facts so that you can be better informed about the situation.  The H1N1 virus has not had the impact of the 1918 swine flu, but it very well could.  Unfortunately, only time will tell the impact that it will have.  All we can control is our response to the situation (which thus far, in my humble opinion, has been rather good, at least from a science and healthcare standpoint)    

An excellent resource on the current swine flu’s “potential” is Dr. Mark Crislip (an infectious disease specialist from the USA).  He was recently interviewed on “The Skeptic’s Guide to the Universe” podcast (an excellent podcast that I recommend that you check out!  Dr. Crislip also produces an excellent podcast that I suggest you check out:  http://www.quackcast.com/ ) and discussed this issue in some depth.  The link is below            

http://www.theskepticsguide.org/archive/podcast.aspx?mid=1 (the interview starts at about the 35:30 mark)

So again, let me restate that swine flu is serious potential healthcare concern.  It may not become a global health crisis, or it may.  Unfortunately only time will tell.  As I stated in my last blog post, continued involvement/diligence will be required to monitor, treat and manage this new potential threat.  It is my hope that this blog post has helped you, the reader, better understand the current situation surrounding SI, and has better equipped you with the proper tools to make decisions regarding your own health and well being

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2 Responses to “Swine Flu…Part 2”

  1. You should here it over here in Japan. The entire medical opinion is to mask up – as this will prevent the spread of the disease. As I understand it, wearing medical masks, 1. only prevents you from giving the disease to other people, and 2. only works for about 15 minutes before the mask itself becomes compromised. Is this true?

    • theskepticalsamurai Says:

      Hey Drew

      Good question.

      The current research indicates that swine flu is transmitted via the droplet route. This means that the virus is carried in water particles and can only be transmitted over short distances (about the range of a cough) as opposed to air borne illness which can easily be transmitted over long distances.

      The mask creates a barrier and thus prevents the spread of infection.
      You bring up a good point though. The mask cannot be warn indefinitely. I must be discarded and changes on a periodic basis. More specialized maskes (such as the N95, that protects against airborne disease) need to be changed more frequently, but typically “simple masks” such as those use to protect against droplet route pathogens can be worn longer.
      Just masking up is a little short sighted. However masking up (and changing your mask on a periodic basis) and proper/effective hand hygiene is an effective means of preventing the spread of infection/disease

      may i ask where you got the “15 min” figure from

      hope you are enjoying yourself in Japan!

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