Sunday, May 31, 2009

Who’s Afraid of Swine Flu?

Even though it did create a somewhat irrational-leaning panic since the mainstream press reported it, but does the rest of the world be concerned over the swift spread of swine flu?

By: Ringo Bones

News of the relatively rapid spread of the H1N1 virus – also known as swine flu – did somewhat ruin the festivities slated for President Obama’s 100 days in office. Or maybe it was that April 28, 2009 breaking news live coverage of CNN when the World Health Organization spokesperson Gregory Hartl announced the raising of the Threat Level of the H1N1 / swine flu “pandemic” from Threat Level Three to Threat Level Four, there are six global pandemic threat levels by the way as established by the WHO. Which the WHO had taken into effect, especially when the suspected death toll throughout Mexico reached 152. Although this was later proven to be an exaggeration because three weeks later it was verified that the death toll in Mexico due to the H1N1 virus or swine flu now stands at 101. Given that seasonal flu death toll of the previous years are magnitudes greater in comparison to current swine flu deaths, why is everyone “deathly” afraid of swine flu?

Compared to the H5N1 virus a few years back, the H1N1 virus that causes swine flu is 800 times less – I and every molecular biologist on the planet can attest, repeat 800 times less – virulent in comparison to the bird flu virus. The problem is that the swine flu virus managed to spread very quickly in a very short amount of time. As cases of the H1N1 virus were reported on every major metropolitan city within the airline route of Mexico City. Thus everyone unfamiliar with the mechanisms of how viruses reproduce and spread to new hosts tend to err on the side of caution – namely switch on to a mode of irrational panic.

Given that the H1N1 virus’s 800 times more virulent cousin has yet to kill over a billion people, the most sensible way to err on the side of caution is to follow the WHO guidelines of avoiding catching the virus - namely covering your nose and mouth as you sneeze to avoid unintentionally spreading the virus. Plus avoiding unnecessary travel to the H1N1 virus’s point of origin, which can be a bummer if you are on a global personal crusade to kick-start the ailing global economy via tourism.

When the Great Influenza Pandemic of 1918 happened, humanity still hasn’t known a single iota about flu viruses – let alone had seen one. Electron microscopes were still a few years away. This was still before a UN-based WHO was established. It was still known as the Health Organization, an agency of the League of Nations formed during the Treaty of Versailles of 1919-1920. Even though the influenza pandemic eventually died out, it managed to kill over 20 million people around the world back then.

So far, it looks like the specter of a global pandemic rivaling that of the Influenza Pandemic of 1918 won’t be repeated this time by the lowly H1N1 virus, which just so happens to have crossed the species barrier to manage to infect a few hundred souls while killing just over a hundred. Maybe it is by luck or if fate is on our side, let’s just hope that what we currently know about flu viruses can protect us from another global pandemic like that of 1918.

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