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H1N1 Flu Update: WHO at Level 6 today

Hiya, guys.  there’s breaking news on the flu front today.  The World Health Organization has elevated the pandemic alert system to level 6.  Basically, this means that we are at a pandemic level of flu and governments around the world will start putting their pandemic flu plans into action.

Vaccine manufacturers are being instructed to commence manufacturing the H1N1 flu vaccine.  The vaccine makers were sent “seed” virus about a week ago.  They are now in the process of optimizing the growth and replication of the virus for the production of vaccine.  There will be some clinical trials to gauge effectiveness of the new vaccine.  This process should take a couple of months.  If all goes well, the vaccine should be ready by early fall.  However, the government has contracted with the vaccine makers for a finite amount of vaccine.  Although there will be millions of doses available, there won’t be enough for every American.  If you are offered the vaccine, take it.  Don’t skip it this year.  Those of you who will not be in populations offered the vaccine can still get relief from the severity of flu symptoms by taking an antiviral medication.  Relenza has been cited as being effective against H1N1.

If your employer hasn’t worked out a plan in the event of a health emergency, now is the time to ask about one.  Here’s why: the H1N1 strain is the same one involved in the Spanish Flu pandemic of 1918.  The flu at this stage is relatively mild.  But the problem is that our generation has virtually no immunity against H1N1.  That means if you are exposed to the virus, your chances of getting infected and sick are higher than they would be in most other years.  Even if the infection is mild, the sheer number of infected individuals makes the likelihood of a dangerous mutation that much greater.  Additionally, because the body has few defenses against a strain it hasn’t seen, the viral load is likely to be higher.  The danger is that this will trigger a cytokine storm in young, healthy individuals with robust immune systems.  Therefore, it is very important to minimize your exposure to the flu even if your friends, colleagues and kids seem to be only mildly ill.  Follow the advice of your public health officials and your personal physician.

Our local paper reports 2 confirmed cases in one of our township’s elementary schools.  The accompaying article describes what to do if you or a family member is infected.  Normally, an infected individual can return to regular activities after 72 hours of being fever free.  Not so with H1N1.  Because the viral load is higher, it is cleared from the body more slowly.  An infected individual will remain infectious for approximately 7 days.  So, get your affairs in order in case you have to stay home for a week.  The flu will seem to go dormant in the summer.  Having kids out of school should limit transmission somewhat.  But H1N1 will probably return in the fall in a more serious form.  No need to panic.  Just stock up on hand sanitizer, limit your exposure to sick individuals, be vigilant and have your doctor’s phone number handy.


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23 Responses

  1. Thanks for the update.

  2. it is happening here in NE PA. I have to do something about a shot. I have cronic asthma.

  3. But H1N1 will probably return in the fall in a more serious form.
    ********
    I guess that is the real worry; a new combination of H1N1 will come out of the Southern Hemisphere for “our” flu season. It’s an odd virus, in that it was behaving like 1918 H1N1 and H1N5 (bird) flu by killing young people in Mexico and then the pattern changed. Genetic sequencing by the CDC didn’t show the patterns of either 1918 or bird flu.

  4. RD – there has been H1N1 in our schools as well, and many people I know have had a “virus” recently. If you’ve been exposed to or had the milder version, are you still vulnerable?

  5. Thanks RD.

    ps: this is something the Conf should read? For upcoming elections and target marketing, and so forth…

    http://business.theatlantic.com/2009/06/could_google_ads_change_elections_maybe_they_already_are.php

    last year bubble sort and this year the blast?

    the G can target market the ads into demographics?

    hmmm……

  6. Those of you who will not be in populations offered the vaccine

    RD: Any idea of what the target population will be? Has CDC or WHO come up with any guidelines?

    • I’m no infectious disease specialist but if I think this through logically, I think we can throw out the normal distribution pattern. In normal flue seasons that are the result of antigenic drift, most of the population has some acquired immunity from past infections of the same strain. So, you would want to make sure that high risk groups are targetted.
      However, a pandemic is caused by antigenic shift, ie, a new strain. That means most of the population has no degree of acquired immunity. In that case, your goal is to minimize the number of people infected, ie, getting “herd immunity”. So, to keep the virus simmering but not at a full boil, you will want to target populations that tend to be incubators, like school children and people who work in close proximity or where there are large numbers of travelers. I would innoculate schools, medical personnel, public transportation people, that kind of group.
      But that’s just speculation on my part. I don’t know who will get the vaccine this time around. All I know is that there won’t be enough for everyone so the distribution will have to be strategic.

      • I know the airlines are VERY conscious of the threat. I just took a trip to Indianapolis and there were huge posters begging people to stay off the planes if there is any chance they’re sick. Also all the servers wore rubber gloves.

  7. RD, I’ve read that those of us who are over 60 probably have some immunity since we likely encountered this strain in our childhoods. What do you think?

    Side comment: When I first started getting flu shots they were $10 at the grocery store; last year it was up to $30. For those of us without health insurance that’s a huge jump. What do you want to bet that they jack up the price on this new flu shot knowing that they can capitalize on pure panic?

    • Um, I’m not old enough to have acquired the H1N1 virus pre 1957. I wasn’t even a zygote back then. But I do remember getting what we called the Russian Flu back in 1978. I don’t know if it actually was the Russian flu or just the seasonal variety. The Russian strain was H1N1 and affected mostly young healthy adults. Other age groups were spared. If this is the strain I had, I probably have partial immunity.

      As for flu shot pricing, the laws of supply and demand hold true, most likely. Vaccine manufacturers have contracts with the government to provide a certain amount of pandemic flu vaccine. Pandemics are special cases so it probably requires special insurance for the manufacturers.

      I know that $30 is a lot for an unemployed person and I feel for them. But for the rest of us, $30 is not a whole lot of money when compared to being out of commission for a week or more. It’s the price of a set of new apple earbuds for your iPhone. It’s a matter of perspective. Pharmaceutical and vaccine science isn’t cheap and we who work in the field need to make a living too.

  8. In Hong KOng,the Chief Executive Donald Tsang Yam-kuen has announced that all primary and lower-level schools will close for a fortnight.

    The decision for the two-week closure, effective from tomorrow, was made after a cluster of influenza-like cases at St Paul’s Convent School was found to be swine flu infections.

    The number of cases in the St Paul cluster was also raised to 12 from nine previously.

    Authorities were unable to identify the source of the infection, making it the first cluster of human swine flu cases in the city without a known link to those travelling overseas, prompting the closures.

    Primary schools, kindergartens and nurseries will be closed until the start of the next school year if they are unable to resume school before the end of the current school year on July 10.

    The Education Bureau has reached an understanding with principals that special arrangements will be made for Primary Five examinations, a key factor in getting into a good secondary school, if schools have to stay closed until the start of the new school year.

    The schools will be closed until June 25 and the bureau will confirm their reopening or announce changes in plans on June 23.

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