Thursday, April 30, 2009

IF SWINE FLU, DOES THAT MEAN PIGS REALLY CAN FLY?

The Bear has had a busy week or so. Two of the ethics bodies on which I serve had meetings, one of which was an unscheduled event. And in both cases, the H1N1 influenza outbreak made it on to the agenda. (Surprise?)

For those not familiar, a quick review.
a) The Influenza A virus strain of subtype H1N1 was the variety responsible for the so-called "Spanish Influenza" of 1919-1920. Millions of people died, world-wide. The H1N1 variety that is back now, is in a different form. The current form has bits of human, swine, and avian flu in it. Yes, it has "mutated" or "evolved." Calling it 'Swine Flu" is a serious misnomer, and really confuses people.
b) As in the 1919 version, this variety seems to target otherwise healthy people in the age range of teens to 40s.
c) While it has become a scourge in Mexico, other countries are seeing far less of a problem. In Canada, when I last checked, there were about 30 confirmed cases of this new H1N1. (That's compared to 4,000 to 8,000 Canadians who die in a "normal" year of the regular, seasonal influenza and complications, with 20,000 to 40,000 being hospitalized.) Those people tend to be babies, the elderly or those who already have significant health problems. The interesting thing to note is that, in comparison to the 1919 disease, this year's H1N1 appears to be a MILDER form of the illness. -- at least thusfar.
d) There is a lot that is going on behind the scenes. Not much of it is being made public, because officials (rightly) do not want to cause public panic. As someone who helped prepare part of the pandemic plan for our health region (which covers a huge geographic area), I have been checking on the status of the situation. Operations are falling into place exactly as planned. People apparently know what to do, and are following the necessary steps.
e) There has been talk of a vaccine (thought that, again, is being played down). A vaccine could probably be developed in about six weeks; it would take six months of testing to prove the vaccine is safe and effective. But doing that is extremely expensive. Is developing a vaccine worth it, if this flu outbreak can be handled effectively in other ways?
f) A couple of thoughts about prevention.
• Be vigilant, but don't panic. Just because you or your kids have bit of a sneeze or sniffle doesn't mean anyone has this flu. Bed rest, lots of fluids, and checking temperatures is the best solution, initially. If things get worse, check with doctor or hospital. You have to be the judge, of course.
• Washing your hands regularly and sneezing or coughing into your elbow (not your hands) are two key ways of preventing the spread of this disease. I know that sounds incredibly low-tech, and some media were reeeeeealy slow to take that seriously, but you can trust the Bear on that one.

(Some medical people, like nurse dani, may want to say more. Pls. be my guest.)

I have yet another ethics meeting (with a different group) this coming Tuesday. You can bet H1N1 is going to be on the agenda. (Bears know about these things.)

As for me, I'm going about life as normal (or as normal as possible, considering I'm a bear trapped in a human body).

Ciao for niao.

ADDENDUM: PLEASE NOTE THE NUMBER OF DEATHS AND HOSPITALIZATIONS IN IN CANADA DURING A "NORMAL" 'FLU SEASON HAS BEEN CORRECTED AFTER A QUERY. See "comments" below for more statistical information.

Footnote: The title for this post is adapted from a comment by my mate in Brisbane, Australia. Why is it that the folks in OZ have all the fun thoughts?

7 comments:

The Blog Fodder said...

Washing hands is the best way to stop spreading flu. Kissing is safer than shaking hands. Saturday Night Live did a skit on that one time - business meeting, I think, was the set up.
Love the title.

That's compared to 30,000 Canadians who die in a "normal" year of the regular, seasonal influenza. I HOPE THAT IS A TYPO.

Reasons to be Cheerful 1,2,3 said...

I called the National Health service for some advice, but all I got was crackling. I don't want to worry you but I think I have swine flu, I keep coming out in rashers.

Can I come and live in the jungle please, I'm sure Mogli didn't have all these worries.

Rob-bear said...

Blog Fodder: You are correct; there was a typo there. Here are some updated statistics, which have just become available. Ironically, we are at the end of the "normal" flu season.

1. In a "normal" flu season, 10 - 25% of the population will become ill; 20,000 to 40,000 will be hospitalized, 4,000 to 8,000 will die, depending on how virulent the disease (how intense and how quickly it is passed among people).

2. The mathematic modeling related to a pandemic gives a radically different picture. In a pandemic like the current H1N1, 30 - 50% of the population could be infected, 35,000 - 138,000 could be hospitalized (completely overwhelming ordinary hospital facilities - meaning special auxiliary hospital would be set up), and between 11,000 and 58,000 could die in a period of 6 - 8 weeks. In addition, 4.5 million to 10.6 million people could be too sick to work. (That 10.6 number represents about a third of the Canadian population, and about two-thirds of Canada's workers -- suggesting a massive economic disruption, depending on who gets sick, and when.)

A key difference between 1919 and this year is that this year's version seems much MILDER than the 1919 flu -- people do not get as sick.However, Health Canada, provincial and regional health authorities are hard at work. The "command centre" of the Saskatoon Health Region became officially operational on Monday. We have no confirmed cases here. I understand some tests have been done, but none are positive for H1N1.

Joanne: Here's a note from Health Canada.
Influenza typically starts with a headache, chills and cough, followed rapidly by fever, loss of appetite, muscle aches and fatigue, running nose, sneezing, watery eyes and throat irritation. Nausea, vomiting and diarrhea may also occur, especially in children.
Most people will recover from influenza within a week to ten days.
Again, if you're worried, check with doctor or hospital.
Good luck. And yes, Baloo knows a lot about the herbs and grasses in the Jungle that will help you get better.

Natalie said...

Hey! Rob Bear! You have now TWO of my all time favourite songs on your thingo. LOVE Desperado, I used to sing it at the PUB - kareoke to standing ovations. Happy Memories . Thanks.

Swine Flu. - 12 cases reported in my small geographical area in the last week. Newcastle, Lake Macquarie, Hunter Valley. N.S.W , Aus. Check it out on google where I live.x ( Lake Macquarie)

Reasons to be Cheerful 1,2,3 said...

Bless you Rob-bear - crackling, rashers...obviously don't have the same meaning over there. Cracking refers to the baked crispy skin on the pork and rashers, of bacon. Will remember to use my Canadian-English dictionary next time I tell bad jokes!!

Gaston Studio said...

Wonderful informative post Rob-Bear. I had no idea it was a spinoff from the Spanish flu which I had heard about in my early school days. Go figure.

GutsyWriter said...

Great post. I stay calm only because I hate it when the media tries to scare us. I also listen to French news on my computer so I can get an international perspective. Thanks for keeping us posted.