The Lowdown on The 2009 Swine Flu Outbreak
Before the first case in the United States was discovered, the illness was believed to have started in Mexico which eventually spread to other countries. Recently, the first case of swine flu was reported in
Costa Rica. Alarmed that it could grow into a worldwide flu epidemic, the World Health Organization of the United Nations and the Center for Disease Control Prevention (CDC) in the United States raised its pandemic alert level to Phase 5, which signifies that a "pandemic is imminent."
While experts believed that the recent outbreak is not as fatal as previous epidemics, such as the SARS virus, health officials believe that the number of cases could go up as the new flu is expected to make its way throughout the United States.
The new swine influenza strain is apparently a new variant of four strains of influenza A virus subtype H1N1. According to the Center for Disease Control and Prevention, one of the strain is endemic in humans and birds and a couple are endemic in pigs.
However, according to scientists the 2009 H1N1 outbreak is of swine origin which is associated with the virus isolated in North America in 1998. To hasten understanding of the current outbreak as well as in coming up with a vaccine, scientists from Canada have completed the full genetic sequencing of the H1N1 virus.
The new strain of H1N1 has become widespread in Mexico and the United States with confirmed cases in 18 countries and suspected cases in 42 others. Travelers have been warned not to travel to affected countries such as Iceland, Singapore, Thailand, South Korea, Hong Kong, Singapore, to name a few.
In addition, warnings have also been issued warnings to visitors of countries affected by the outbreak. It is advisable for visitors to see the doctor right away if they experience flu-like symptoms.
In Mexico, schools, universities, and all public events were suspended from April 24 to May 6, 2009. In the United States, over 400 schools were closed as of May 3, 2009, which included schools in Texas and about 250,000 confirmed or probable cases.
Dr. Keiji Fukuda, who is the Assistant Director-General for Health Securiy and Environment of the World Health Organization confirmed that efforts to control the outbreak is already too late and should now focus on lessening the effects of the virus. He also clarified that closing borders or limiting travel to infected areas will do little in stopping the spread of the H1N1 virus.
On April 28, 2009, the Center for Disease Control and Prevention suggested that as much as possible, people should avoid non-important travel to Mexico.
According to Dr. Ira Longini, who is an expert in the mathematics and statistics of epidemics, staying at home, seeking medical care, closing public venues, and making anti-flu medicines accessible can help reduce the sickness by almost two-thirds.
Finally, according to Dr. Longini, the focus of efforts is to slow transmission until there is a vaccine that can be developed and made available for controlling swine flu outbreaks.