Swine Influenza Pandemic
Pandemic alert phase 6
WHO based on all available information and several expert consultations, decided to raise the level of influenza pandemic alert from phase 5 to phase 6!
The change to a higher phase of alert is a signal to undertake certain actions with increased urgency. Influenza pandemics must be taken very seriously because of their capacity to spread rapidly to every country in the world. Phase 6 is the pandemic phase and is characterized by a community-level outbreak in another country in a different WHO region.
Swine Influenza is a respiratory disease of pigs caused by type A H1N1 influenza virus. It regularly causes outbreaks of influenza among pigs. Swine flu viruses do not normally infect humans, but human infections with swine influenza do occur. There have been documented cases of human-to-human spread of swine influenza viruses.
Human cases of swine influenza
WHO reported on swine flu pandemic A H1N1 cases and deaths in each of its regions - Europe (more than 49,000 cases and 125 deaths), Americas (120,653 cases and 2,467 deaths), Eastern Mediterranean (9,844 cases and 51 deaths), Southeast Asia (22,387 cases and 221 deaths), Western Pacific (69,387 cases and 306 deaths). 24 African countries had officially reported 8,125 laboratory-confirmed cases and 40 deaths.
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Introduction to Flu Pandemics
A pandemic is a world-wide outbreak of a disease. It usually occurs, when a new pathogen for the particular disease emerges. Consequently, a vaccine for such a new virus takes some time to develop, thus initially, there are no means to prevent the disease. The disease spreads from one person to another with ease and within a short period of time, may have spread across the world.
Facts about Flu Pandemic
Flu pandemics are among the most frequently occurring pandemics in the world. Indeed, three flu pandemics have occurred in the previous century. Some of them have affected millions of individuals with a significant number among them, dying as a result of influenza. This type of pandemic flu usually occurs when a new strain of influenza virus emerges and spreads all over the world.
The most severe among the flu pandemics has been the Spanish pandemic (1918-1920) that resulted in the death of over 40 million individuals. The other notable flu pandemics include the Asian Flu Pandemic (1957-1958) and the Hong Kong Flu Pandemic (1968-1969). Both of these were less severe in nature and did not result in as many deaths.
Phases of a Flu Pandemic
The WHO has defined a number of phases for spreading influenza and has come up with measures that need to be taken in each of them. The phases are as follows:
1. No new virus subtype harmful to humans detected in either humans or animals.
2. A new virus has been detected among animals.
3. The new virus has affected humans but is not spreading from a person to others. No human intervention is necessary.
4. The virus has started spreading among humans, but such cases are highly localized. Thus, the virus is not well adapted to humans.
5. Larger clusters of human-to-human spread have been encountered, indicating that the virus is now well-adapted to humans.
6. Sustained transmission of the virus worldwide has resulted in a pandemic.
Apart from the death of a large number of people, an influenza pandemic may have a number of other disastrous effects. Some of them are as follows:
- Isolation of some communities from others in an effort to prevent the spread of the disease.
- In many cases, over half the population in a particular area is affected with the disease. This results in the lack of sufficient medical facilities, doctors, hospital rooms etc. Often enough people are not available to bury the dead bodies.
- Such pandemics also result in social unrest, caused by the selfishness and lack of trust among individuals. An increase in the crime rate is also usually seen during pandemics. Individuals tend not to rely on each other and also, do not accept authority.
- The economy of a country is also severely affected if preventive measures are not taken in the initial stages. It may result in reduced production of goods, disruption of essential services, difficulty in distribution etc.
- A large number of employees may be absent from work on a regular basis.
- In case of recent threats like avian flu, the breeding of livestock may be adversely affected.
Swine Flu / Avian Flu - will it lead to a Pandemic?
The swine influenza is caused by the H1N1 subtype of Influenza A virus. A subtype of this virus called as the HPAI A (H1N1) has predominantly affected pigs across the world. This viral disease has affected a large number of pigs and human in Mexico and appears to have spread to other countries and can be termed epizootic and panzootic.
The virus of swine influenza made its first appearance in humans in Mexico, California and Texas. Its subsequent spread has led many scientists and virologists to believe, that unless necessary measures are taken, this virus may result in another flu pandemic.
Planning ahead to Prevent a Pandemic
Effective planning can reduce the severity of the pandemic and thus, reduce the number of cases of the disease. Such planning requires co-operation between various countries in the world. The measures that can be taken include securing pigs, limiting travel, efficient vaccination etc. With proper care, it may be possible to prevent a influenza pandemic and it can most certainly be controlled.
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