Wednesday, May 27, 2009

H1N1 Creeps Along

The H1N1 virus, otherwise known as Swine Flu, is creeping along at a slow but steady pace, and my work as a public health nurse amidst the outbreak of a novel influenza virus has certainly ebbed----for now.

As predicted by many, the virus is currently no more virulent than your average seasonal influenza, and while more cases and deaths are indeed expected, the rate of the spread of H1N1 is slow and steady rather than rapid and diffuse.

Still, there is a great deal of uncertainty as to what will happen when H1N1 goes somewhat underground over the summer, only to resurface in the Autumn, mutated and ready for the seasonal flu season. Epidemiologists are concerned due to the fact that the 1918 influenza pandemic began with a novel virus emerging in the Spring, spreading slowly but steadily, diminishing in the summer and reemerging in the Autumn, hundreds of times more virulent. Only time will tell.

Another novel aspect of this virus is that, unlike seasonal influenza---which predominately impacts older adults and those with chronic illnesses---the majority of H1N1 cases are those between the ages of 5 and 20, with the vast preponderance being between the ages of 11 and 15. The assumption is that those generations of children have never been exposed to this virus before, whereas the rest of us were alive in the 1970s during the last H1N1 outbreak. And whereas most children and young adults are healthy enough to fight off the infection, there are concerns about children with weakened immune systems and chronic illnesses. When children die from otherwise benign infections, people take notice, and this is an eventuality we all want to avoid.

Be that as it may, the H1N1 scenario is relatively calm for now, and those of us working in public health and other sectors of the health care industry watch, wait, listen, and hope that nothing more comes of this outbreak of a novel virus making its inexorable way around the world.
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