While the flu is always being passed around the human population, it hardly ever reaches epidemic proportions; however, in the 20th century there have been three flu pandemics. What causes a flu pandemic to occur is when a new strain of the virus arises that most people have no immunity to. World health officials are vigilantly watching the ongoing swine flu outbreaks in Mexico and the U.S. to see if they might set off the next one.
A Short History of Pandemics:
In 1918, the Spanish flu pandemic was first identified in the U.S. but during World War I, we were censoring the press and it received more media attention in Spain and thus became known as the Spanish flu. It was perhaps the deadliest outbreak of all time and struck mostly healthy young adults. The estimated death toll was approximately 40 to 50 million people worldwide.
In 1957, the Asian flu was first identified in China. This virus affected mostly children and the elderly and caused about 2 million deaths worldwide.
In 1968, the Hong Kong flu was first identified in Hong Kong and spread around the world over a two-year period. The people most susceptible to the virus were the elderly, and around 1 million people are estimated to have died in this epidemic.
Direct Associations with The Swine Flu:
In 1976 an influenza epidemic began when an army recruit at Fort Dix, NJ complained of feeling tired and weak. He died the next day and other soldiers were soon hospitalized. His death was credited to swine flu and officials said the flu strain was linked to the 1918 epidemic.
President Gerald Ford was strongly urged by health officials to take action, and approximately 24% of the U. S. population was vaccinated. The tragic consequences of the vaccine were approximately 500 cases of Guillain-Barré syndrome tied to an immunopathological reaction to the vaccine. There were 25 associated deaths from severe pulmonary complications.
The Current Swine Flu Threat 2009:
The new flu strain is a combination of pig, bird and human viruses, prompting worries from health officials that humans may have no natural immunity to the pathogen. An estimated 170 deaths in Mexico are believed to have been caused by the never-before-seen virus, according to published reports.
Dr. Richard Besser, acting director of the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, said there were 160 confirmed cases of infection with the swine flu virus in 21 states, with one death in Texas (a Mexican boy who traveled to the U.S.). Most of the cases involved people under age 18, but patients range in age from 8 to 81. All of the cases diagnosed in the United States have continued to be mild, federal health officials said. For the latest stats and safety information please visit: http://www.cdc.gov/h1n1flu/
The World Health Organization as of Wednesday raised the swine flu epidemic level from 4 to 5, signifying that a pandemic is looming, and urged countries to implement their pandemic plans. So far, the virus has been identified in Mexico, the U.S., Switzerland, Canada, New Zealand, Britain, Germany, Spain, Israel and Austria.
Currently, the FDA and the CDC are developing virus reference strains — the information that is necessary to develop a vaccine. The earliest a vaccine could be ready is this fall, said Dr. Anthony S. Fauci, director of the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases.
While health officials have said that the cases of infection found in the United States so far are mild, they expect more severe cases as time goes on. The incubation period for the U.S. cases is two to seven days, which is typical for a flu virus.
As with the previously tested strains of the swine flu virus, new testing found that the pathogen remains susceptible to the two common antiviral drugs Tamiflu and Relenza, according to an April 28 report from the CDC’s Morbidity and Mortality Weekly Report.
Symptoms of Swine Flu:
Symptoms of swine flu are similar to those caused by other flu viruses. These include fever, chills, coughing, headache, body aches, sore throat, and fatigue. Sometimes vomiting, diarrhea and nausea occur. In the past, pneumonia and potentially fatal respiratory failure have been associated with the swine flu but symptoms vary with individuals.
What can you can do to help avoid this virus?
Practicing good hygiene is still your best line of defense. Be sure to wash your hands frequently, cough or sneeze into your elbow – facing the floor, avoid sharing utensils, cups and food. Also, avoid crowded settings and stay at home as much as possible should an outbreak occur. If you are sick, avoid contact as much as possible with other members of your household. Facemasks can help, but are not fool-proof. Staying abreast of the news on the flu virus will possibly help you to avoid areas of outbreaks.
If you haven’t already, start a program of good nutrition (plenty of fresh fruits and vegetables, lean proteins and good fats). Take a quality multivitamin/mineral, a probiotic (strengthens the immune system), and an omega-3 supplement (fish oil) everyday. Doing these things builds a stronger, healthier body that will be able to fight off infections better.
Persons with swine influenza A (H1N1) virus infection should be considered potentially contagious for up to 7 days following illness onset. Persons who continue to be ill longer than 7 days after illness onset should be considered potentially contagious until symptoms have resolved. Children, especially younger children, might potentially be contagious for longer periods. The duration of infectiousness might vary by swine influenza A (H1N1) virus strain. Non-hospitalized ill persons who are a confirmed or suspected case of swine influenza A (H1N1) virus infection are recommended to stay at home (voluntary isolation) for at least the first 7 days after illness onset except to seek medical care.