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H1N1 Swine Flu Update

Many virologists, including Vincent Racaniello, have suggested that the threat of avian influenza (H5N1) was greatly overestimated and so distracted us from more serious threats. Back in early 2005, he suggested that another strain might underpin a pandemic, such as H2N2, it may yet do just that. In the meantime, he was essentially right in that H1N1, previously known as “swine flu” emerged in March this year in Mexico (not Asia). He suggests that we really shouldn’t underestimate viruses.

US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), in its weekly report on flu, suggested that the decline in infections during the last week of May in the US is important but the numbers still represent higher levels of influenza-like illness than is normal for this time of year.

Richard Besser, CDC acting director, announced on June 8 that H1N1 isn’t “going away” and suggested that some people might need to get two separate flu vaccines in the autumn. He added that the second wave of H1N1 might be more virulent than the current apparently weak phase. Of course, that’s a guess as to how the virus might evolve, there is a chance it could go either way.

As to actually getting hold of a vaccine…Hong Kong is promising that vulnerable citizens will get the jab. However, at the time of writing no vaccine against H1N1 is ready. According to the World Health Organization (WHO), as of the end of May no vaccine was available and development could take five to six months.

Although the number of cases of the H1N1 virus has been declining in many places, health officials expect a resurgence this fall, possibly in a more severe form.

On June 5, the WHO held the third meeting of its emergency committee and agreed that future pandemic updates would include reference to the severity of an outbreak. Whether or not this would have a positive or negative impact on media reporting of any outbreak remains to be seen.

If you believe no news is good news, then the lack of updates since June 2 on the Pandemicflu.gov site has to be good, but it’s slightly worrying, from the technical point of view that the site has not added any new data or reports for a week.

More timely information for Europeans is available from the European Centre for Disease Prevention and Control (ECDC), which reports 108 new cases confirmed from European countries, 284 new cases in non-European countries, and the first cases in Martinique (overseas territory France) and Dominica. (PDF report).

The first death in Pennsylvania associated with 2009 Novel Influenza A/H1N1 was reported in Berks County. Currently, the state has 269 confirmed cases and 101 probable cases of illness due to this virus. Nationally, there are 11,054 confirmed cases of A/H1N1 and 18 related deaths. Gantdaily

The BBC reported that the first case of “home-grown” swine flu in Northern Ireland had occurred.

However, the WHO has the last word explaining that it is once again on the verge of declaring a genuine pandemic as the disease spreads through Australia. we’ve been sitting at Phase V (the one below pandemic VI) for weeks now. But, even jumping to Phase VI doesn’t actually mean that the disease has become any more severe that it was.

Pandemic status is all to do with incidence and little to do with virulence. The WHO says that, “by going to phase six, what this would mean is that the spread of the virus continues and activity has become established in at least two regions in the world.” In other words the Americas and Australia. Nothing more, nothing less.

WHO has just reported that totals are 27737 cases of H1N1 one with 141 deaths in 74 countries, with Africa so far largely unaffected.

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