Swine flu: A big hype or a looming death sentence?

Reading time 4 min.

The swine flu, initially discovered in Mexico, has become the new worldwide scare as governments run helter-skelter in search of solutions to prevent the contamination of their populations while the WHO warns of a looming pandemic. Among the various steps to be taken are “anti social measures” that many are finding difficult to cope with. In a backdrop of falling numbers of infection, many have been sharp with criticisms against the WHO for doing too much too soon. But the WHO has shot back giving a not-too-fast-to-judge warning.

Last week, when Mexican authorities advised citizens to “go out only when necessary” and those who really needed to go out were “advised not to shake hands, get closer to others and also cover their mouths and noses with medical masks”, many were those who rejected the advice claiming they were anti-social. A wave of criticisms was levelled at the World Health Organisation (WHO) for overreacting when it called for vigilance in the face of the A/H1N1. The international media caught on the WHO warning and likened the swine flu to the “Spanish” flu pandemic of 1918 as fresh data from Mexico emerged. But criticisms arose when the Mexican Health Minister, José Angel Cordova indicated that “the evolution of the epidemic is now in its phase of descent”, suggesting that they may have been wrong in estimating an earlier 176 deaths from the flu as results now prove that only 19 of the now 100 suspected deaths from the swine flu are definite. The US, Monday, announced that 403 Americans had contracted the virus since the beginning of the spread of the virus, with only one related death involving a child. Currently, the total number of worldwide infections stands at 1419 with 30 related deaths.

In Europe, the two most affected countries are the UK (related to schools) and Spain (related to travel) but there is not yet an official report of community based transmissions as there have been in the US and Mexico where severe respiratory symptoms, in some cases, have led to hospitalisations. As to whether or not a change in geographical conditions affects the behavioural pattern of the virus, the WHO does not know yet. However, one preoccupying factor with the swine flu is that whereas a normal flu usually affects young children and older people, strangely, the swine flu is said to mostly affect people slightly below or above the 20-25 year range. According to a press conference given by the WHO, Tuesday, this trend (the average age range) could be because older people may have some level of protection or simply because influenza first affects younger people before it gets to older people.

Meanwhile, the most recent estimations of the virus’ incubation period is stated as being between one to five days.

The new figures indicating that there is no exponential rise in swine flu (AH1N1) cases bring hope to everyone, “but most particularly relief to hypochondriacs who saw the swine flu everywhere in the past week” according to Michel Martin. “Tensions are calming down and it will only be a matter of a week or two to have the swine flu back to where it belongs, history, albeit the WHOs rising of the risk to the highest level 6.” But according to experts, indifference is dangerous because the outbreak has occurred almost at the end of the flu season, which means that a second wave could spell incalculable consequences. On this point, Ms Margeret Chan (WHO boss) declares that “We hope the virus fizzles out, because if it doesn’t we are heading for a big outbreak.” In fact, the 1918 Spanish flu outbreak, also known as the biggest “medical holocaust”, initially stopped at the end of the flu season in the northern hemisphere only to come back a second time in the following flu season with a harsh vengeance killing between 50 and 100 million people (estimates differ) after affecting over a billion people worldwide. Michel Martin believes wearing masks is “anti social”.

As for the widespread criticisms levelled against the WHO for overeating, Ms Margaret Chan has been swift in saying that “I’m not predicting the pandemic will blow up, but if I miss it and we don’t prepare, I fail. I’d rather over-prepare than not prepare.” It is also a “signal to public health authorities to take appropriate measures” to safeguard the health of their populations.

Health file  The lack of education and political will, poverty, out-moded traditional beliefs, to mention but a few, have been widely blamed for causing severe and sometimes unwarranted health catastrophies of genocidal proportions on the African continent. Child killer diseases, malaria, tuberculosis, water borne diseases, HIV/AIDS, among other preventable ailments have killed millions in their wake. As rightly said by the former UN Secretary General, Kofi Annan, on May 13, 2000 "More people (...) died of Aids in the past year (1999-2000, ndlr) in Africa than in all the wars on the continent".
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