Yesterday the New York Times reported a new theory circling among scientists that the swine flu actually emerged in Asia contrary to popular belief that it originated on Mexican farms where it was first detected.
The theory states the virus took shape in pigs in Asia and then travelled to North America in human form. However, scientists have also said that the chances of proving their theory right seem slim as the virus travels at a rapid pace around the globe. With over 90 countries affected, the virus could go back from the human to the pig form making it difficult to detect where it began first.
For those who have just come back from Mars, the swine flu or the A (H1N1) strain, as it was renamed by the World Health Organization (WHO) in April due to the lack of DNA evidence then connecting the disease to pigs and to try and stop the slaughtering of pig stock in places, is the new global medical threat.
One generally catches it through airborne transmission but touching a surface with the disease and then touching one’s mouth or nose can also give you the A (H1N1) virus. According to latest WHO figures, the global tally of people affected as of June 24 was 55,876, out of which 238 have died, an increase of 3,707 more cases identified from June 22. Countries added to the ever-growing list are Antigua and Barbuda, Cambodia, Cape Verde, Cote d’Ivoire, Ethiopia, Latvia, Montenegro, Tunisia, and Vanuatu.
On June 11th The World Health Organization declared from Geneva that the A (H1N1) strain is a global pandemic. This sparked a few debates as some felt the UN was unnecessarily raising alarm to a disease that the WHO itself positioned at moderate severity level.
Many have even suggested that the WHO needs to change its parameters for defining a pandemic from how fast it spreads to how deadly it is. After declaring a disease a pandemic for the first time in 41 years, the WHO recommended against attempts to try and contain it saying that it was too widely spread; it was too late. Despite this, in Mexico, where the first outbreak was documented in the five year old Edgar, authorities closed down schools, gyms, pools, restaurants, theatres and encouraged the use of a mask.
When outbreaks were reported in New York City where the disease is the most concentrated in the US, some public schools were closed. China went a step ahead quarantining Mexicans and anyone coming from Mexico whether they were sick or not.
The extensive media coverage and concern surrounding the disease, of course, reminds one of the bird flu scare a few years back which eventually died out taking with it 257 of the 421 it affected. 2003 also saw the SARS scare which moved faster infecting 1755 and killing 299 of its victims. The seasonal flu itself kills about 250,000-500,000 people a year.
What makes this particular variation of the flu a matter of concern is not only that it spreads quickly but that it doesn’t affect the expected sections of the population. Serious cases of any kind of flu tend to be seen among the very old and the very young, however the median range for the swine flu is 17, meaning that it is affecting the population that should be the most able to fight it.
More than anything else the concern lies in that medics have not seen this strain of virus among humans before and the rate at which it is moving it might be too late before it is completely understood and harnessed by our scientists.
On June 22nd the Congress approved a 7.65 billion dollar flu response plan which included a contract of 35 million with PSC to make a vaccine against the A (H1N1) virus. According to the agreement the vaccine must be finished in 12 weeks. But even if that deadline is met a lot more animal and human testing will be required before it is eventually approved, multiplied and then injected into the United States. Sources say that it might take till November, at least, to satisfy America and perhaps years to satisfy the global demand.
Till then, the WHO has asked us to make sure we clean our hands properly and try our best to keep our germs to ourselves.