Swine Flu Epidemic: Useful Information for the NSC Campus Community

By Scott M. Sofferman DVM SAS, NSC Biology Lecturer
A particular strain of influenza, (Influenza type A) has appeared in southern Mexico. How the virus has emerged is speculative at best. It is believed by many that when viruses disappear they are all but extinct and no longer pose a threat. Perhaps nothing could be further from the truth. As we speak and go about our daily routines in life, many strains of viruses are quietly mutating. Some will in fact mutate towards extinction, while others will genetically reinforce their ability to create much harm. This particular flu type or strain is not familiar to epidemiologists. In other words, it has never been seen, though its subtypes (viral components) have in fact been studied. The most disquieting part of this is that it might be responsible for approximately one hundred or more deaths. It has been defined as an animal strain of the H1N1 virus and may very well have pandemic potential.
According to officials more than 75 patients of this potential strain have succumbed to it. A variety of other deaths may be related, but all the facts have not yet been assessed. It is important to verify and secure all information regarding this particular strain, before jumping to senseless conclusions. The WHO (World Health Organization) claims that many of these patients share at least in findings, the same genetic character of the swine flu. It has also known that a handful of people in the US, approximately, 8-10, have in some way been potentially exposed to this very same virus. These patients according to latest knowledge have recovered. This is certainly good news yet lowering the bar of concern may be premature. (Note that the first reported death was of a 22-month-old child from Mexico who died in Houston, Texas). Researchers at the CDC (center of disease control) are still worrisome of the potential outcome. It is true that the standard Flu strain has regrettably proven fatal for a variety of people, namely the elderly, young children, and those with compromised immune systems. This new strain is different, as new and mutating forms of this orthomyxovirus are quite unpredictable in behavior. There are certainly even more deadly viruses in existence; Ebola, Haantvirus, and even rabies are more aggressive by nature. Yet the flu virus is a gem at mutation. It always appears to stay one step ahead of human research. The biggest fear factor at the present time is the possible human to human contagion factor. Fortunately, the more virulent avian flu does not possess this genetic attribute at the present time, at least according to the most current and evidential research. Some authorities may disagree with this bold statement.
On several occasions, people get swine flu, such as farmers, handlers and even veterinarians. None were able to pass it on to other people. At any rate of discussion, several other cases of swine flu have appeared in Kansas, California, Texas and New York. Where the virus may still resurface is anybody’s guess. All the details of exposure and disease confirmation are still somewhat vague. These breakouts though not necessarily dangerous, more than qualify as being contagious bumps in the road. This situation must be and is being critically evaluated. Again, there are a lot of ifs and hows regarding actual counts of morbidity (patients becoming ill) and actual confirmed cases. More information should be available over the next few days. Should this situation turn out as more innocuous than dangerous than it should still serve as a valuable lesson regarding disease, its unpredictability, and its prevention. Should we be in for a dangerous ride, hopefully nothing like the Spanish flu of 1918, than our lifestyles may dramatically change, and not by need alone, but for the sake of health and survival? It should be noted that similar flu scares existed in both 1957 and 1968. Both caused damage and quite a global concern. Fortunately, these strains subsided rather quickly.
Currently, the therapeutic protocol calls for employment of Oseltamavir, otherwise known as Tamiflu. Relenza is another potential choice. Both of these medications are of a broader spectrum and incapacitate toxic substances such as neuraminidase enzymes in both the A and B types of influenza. These are not over the counter medications. Authorities believe that these drugs as well could adequately damage the developing virus by interfering with key component receptor mechanisms. Until more is known, the premature and irrational use of these drugs could have negative effects on individuals as well as pose problems regarding issues of resistance. Vaccines are not available for these strains. Though the donning of facial masks is not yet a recommendation by the CDC and WHO, it is probably not a bad idea to have a ready supply should one find oneself amongst infected people. As this condition either progresses or hopefully regresses, we will continue to be bombarded with new and changing information. At times viruses as well as other microbes have an uncanny ability to behave in a most unpredictable manner.
Yes, we live in a very different world today. There are many more people these days vying for a solitary piece of mother earth. Still we are all here, and it’s just easier to be civil and respectful to each other. Life is safer, more healthful and qualitative when we can work together and even protect one another that we share this planet with. Not all of them are bad, and in fact many are beneficial. We will never likely eradicate all the bad bugs, but we can perhaps make a dent in their ability and desire to attack and destroy us.
Let’s start with a form of health respect for others, especially in these gray times.
1. Students should wash hands often.
2. Students should carry anti-bacterial wipes, and use them before eating, when they do not have immediate access to sinks for washing. Students that snack in class should clean any mess, accidental or otherwise, that has occurred If you use the microwave ovens, please clean up any spills.
3. Considering the present viral scare, wash hands after shaking, or touching suspicious objects. Never touch money, your shoe sole, laces or otherwise, and then eat finger foods.
4. Keep fingers out of mouths, noses, eyes, and hair while eating or before you are about to shake someone’s hands. This especially applies during the flu season. People sneezing, coughing etc., should pay particular attention to hygienic habits.
5. If you must expectorate (spit), please use a tissue. Even infectious sputum can vaporize and spread disease. In fact, sputum is a key body fluid for the culturing of microbes. It is recommended to maintain good oral health. Poor oral health is a harbinger to a variety of diseases.
6. You are as healthy as your immune system permits. Proper diets, eating in moderation, exercise, and getting sufficient sleep and rest when necessary coupled with some common courtesy are tantamount to a healthy lifestyle.
7. Kissing is always popular and no doubt a wonderful gesture. However, be careful who you kiss. Much sickness is passed on this way. The kisser should be careful and mindful as well.
8. NSC want our students and faculty to continue enjoying the one thing we all take for granted; Health. It is our most valuable asset. Without it, nothing else is of any importance. All personal habits that serve to only strengthen our immune system, can be of tremendous benefit, and even lifesaving. We should all care about our school, and the best way, is to stay determined, strong and healthy in body and mind.
Recent World News on the Swine Flu Epidemic:
We now have a single death in the US, but for a child you came from Mexico:
The virus has been reported in 10 states, and the number of people infected with the 2009 H1N1 influenza strain grew to 91 in the U.S., the CDC said Wednesday. That number includes the first U.S. swine flu fatality: a 22-month-old child from Mexico who died of the illness Monday at a Houston, Texas, hospital. Watch officials detail the child’s death: http://www.cnn.com/2009/HEALTH/04/29/swine.flu/index.html#cnnSTCVideo
The toddler had traveled with his family to Brownsville, Texas, to visit relatives, and likely already was infected when he entered the United States, a Texas health official said Wednesday. The child was transferred to the Houston hospital when his condition worsened.
Additional Helpful Links:
From the Center for Disease Control and Prevention
From the National Institute of Health with multiple links
From the World Health Organization

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