Monday, April 27, 2009

Swine Flu Outbreak, National Health Emergency and Vaccine

At 1:00 pm on April 27, 2009, President Obama spoke at the National Science Foundation and announced that the U.S. had declared a national health emergency to deal with the recently discovered outbreak of swine flu in the U.S. and Mexico. On the same day, Mexico ordered all of its schools nationwide to be closed and confirmed that there had been 149 confirmed deaths and 1,995 people hospitalized from the swine flu thus far in Mexico. No one is sure how many people in Mexico have been infected or how virulent this outbreak is. It could be that one million people in Mexico have been infected, or only 100,000, or only 10,000. Also of concern is the fact that the swine flu in Mexico appears to have mutated and to be resilent to drug treatment. In the U.S. thus far, there have been 28 confirmed swine flu cases in New York City, 7 in California, 2 in Kansas, 2 in Texas, and 1 in Ohio. The first case of swine flu involved a boy in Texas. Subsequently, there were several cases in California. But the real outbreak has been in Mexico. At the end of the normal flu season in Mexico, health officials had noticed an increase in the amount of flu cases, but it wasn't until deaths began to occur that people realized it was the swine flu. The swine flu is like the 1918 flu that killed over 100 million people worldwide in that it tends to attack healthy adolescents as opposed to infants or the elderly. The problem is that for healthy persons, there body tends to overreact in its immune response and fill the lungs with fluid. The swine flu is also of concern for individuals with a depressed immune system. Health officials are scrambling to understand the nature of the current swine flu and whether it represents the type of pandemic that health officials have long been afraid of -- as a repeat of the type of pandemic that occurred during the 1918 flu. Until more is known, health officials have recommended not traveling to Mexico except in cases of necessity, avoid large gatherings of people, immediately report to your doctor any flu like symptoms, and to take the normal precautions to prevent colds and the flu such as washing your hands often. Meanwhile, pharmaceutical companies are looking whether a specific vaccine can be developed to deal with this new variation of swine flu. This current national health emergency and swine flu outbreak highlights one of the major problems (and perhaps the greatest problem) of our new modern, globalized society - in that given the international travel today, any health pandemic can rapidly spread throughout the world. Such a pandemic is even more likely to occur in the event of global warming and displaced of large populations of people, since health epidemics are more likely to occur in poor refugee populations. This demonstrates how we need to understand that, given today's modern globalized world, we are more interconnected with all the people and life on our fragile planet earth than ever.