Monday, August 31, 2009

H1N1 Flu Pandemic - Warning!

The Watchman has a special interest in public health, having worked in the field for a number years on the environmental side as well as having a degree in environment health science. The transmission of disease has always fascinated me as well as the detective work it takes to figure out how it happens. Nearly a year ago we heard about a serious form of influenza striking in the heart of Mexico. At the time public health officials down-played the threat, relegating the new virus to "no big deal" status. Later, officials took it off the watch list and most public health workers breathed a sigh of relief. Another flu pandemic bullet dodged. Or so they believed.

In July the World Health Organization (WHO) revised their call, and declared the H1N1 flu a true pandemic virus. Late last week WHO public health officials warned of a new twist to the virus, its attack on the human respiratory system directly, with deadly outcomes previously not anticipated. Severe H1N1 It appears this virus has particularly nasty habit of attacking children and young adults. If true to form, it will also kill the elderly either from the flu or complications such as pneumonia.

What is so eerie about this virus is its copy-cat sneaky invasion as the great Spanish Flu pandemic of 1918-1919. That virus acted very similar in its docile appearance early on, then after one or two waves around the world, it mutated into something truly terrify and very deadly. If you want to read about one of the darkest times in world health, take a look at John M. Barry's "The Great Influenza: The Epic Story of the Deadliest Plague in History". It is truly scary how the pandemic spread with hardly any official government action out of fears it might cause panic or worse negatively impact the war effort. But equally comforting is the realization that much of what we today call modern health care was born out of the American medical profession's response to the crisis, as well as, the heroic effort of micro-biologists to find answers in the budding American research labs.

The Watchman's advice is to review your personal medical situation, get vaccinated if in one of the high risk groups, and heed FEMA/CDC guides for preparation of prolonged disruption of normal public services. Think on this: most medium and small towns have maybe two or three employees who know to operate the drinking water system. If they become sick, who will ensure safe water continues to be pumped into the distribution system. Same for waste water, trash collection, food distribution and so on. In 1918, in some cities the dead were piled outside of homes and city workers carted the dead off to mass burial plots. The story of Philadelphia is particularly instructive on how a pandemic can spread and what consequences occur without proper and timely public health action.

I don't mean to cause panic or spread wild rumors, but an ounce of prevention is worth pounds of cure, and just maybe your life.

No comments:

Post a Comment