June 16, 2009

A rant about Swine Flu

Yesterday I read an opinion piece here about Swine Flu (called influenza A H1N1) by Linley Boniface. I have to say I totally agree with her. Sure, at the moment it seems no more harmful than an ordinary seasonal flu, and yes, I am aware that 250,000-500,000 people die from that a year already.

What most people do not understand is that the WHO has raised the pandemic alert level to 6 due to the rapidity of its spread, rather than its severeness. The reason for this is that scientific information gathered about previous pandemics has shown the influenza A virus to be unpredictable. It can take on new genetic material and mutate to even more virulent forms, unlike seasonal influenza which is stable in this respect. If this happens and it spreads even faster, the main concern is that influenza A H1N1 is new and most people do not have any immunity to it, unlike they do with seasonal influenza. This happened in the 1918 influenza pandemic which killed an estimated 50-100 Million people. Although it is fair to say there are a number of differences between then and now in regards to medical knowledge and its communication, there is also a big difference in world population (1.6 Billion vs 6.8 Billion) and so there is still a very real threat to the many millions in underdeveloped areas if its spread becomes more rapid.

Like global warming, surely it is better to act on the information we do have, to be proactive and to take preventative measures rather than doing nothing and the unthinkable happen. The same people who cry "Conspiracy!", or who criticise the WHO and The Ministry of Health for taking what they deem to be unnecessary action, would likely be the same people that would label them incompetent should they do nothing.

Call it a media beat up and be bored with the story if you must, but please do understand the reasons behind the measures these organisations are taking. It might turn out to be nothing, and even if it does, in developed countries we might not see its full effect. But there are a lot of other people in worse situations than you and I (sadly, even some in our own country) and these measures are in their best interests.

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