Tag Archives: H1N1 virus

Swine Flu, Social Distancing & School Closures

It takes a challenging virus like the H1N1 to make health authorities worldwide scupper for renewed definitions and amended health protocols.

Take the phrase social distancing used in public health practice to mean  encouraging people to keep their physical distance from each other social distancingduring disease outbreaks in order to slow the spread of infection. This term should not to be confused with that well-worn phrase in sociology, social distance. Social distancing has recently come into vogue  as an effective weapon to curb the rapid spread of swine flu.

Examples of social distancing include cancellation of public events like sports,plays and concerts and closure of schools. These are touted to be “feasible community containment measures”, according to WHO, in a pandemic. All of these measures  have significant impact on the community and workforce, however, and careful consideration would be focused on their potential effectiveness.

When the outbreak was first reported, many local authorities were quick to close an entire school for a week upon the detection of a student with the H1N1 virus.The contacts and immediate family members were placed in quarantine for a similar period.

Now that most countries have moved from the containment phase to the mitigation phase (in short, public health officials raising their hands up to concede that the H1N1 virus cannot be fenced in anymore), local health authorities have stopped counting the number of cases and concentrating their resources to treating those badly afflicted with the disease.

Why, the US Centre for Disease Control (CDC) is now recommending that schools should not be closed unless the majority of students were having another medical condition which would make them extra-vulnerable. Even more significant, those who are sick can return to school or work if they were fever-free for more than 24 hours, instead of the previous advice of 7 days.

Why the change of heart? Because the virus does not typically cause life-threatening illness, says the CDC. Less than 3% of those who get H1N1 die. Instead, schools should weigh the “definite harm” of lost learning, lost wages if a parent has to stay home to care for the child, or the risks of having an unsupervised child at home

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H1N1 Swine Flu – Pandemic, Panic & Profits

Last week’s announcement by WHO that the current H1N1 flu is now a pandemic is bound to cause some amount of panic or near-panic state among members of the public, especially those who associate pandemics with massive numbers falling ill and dying. Such was the case in the 1918 flu outbreak where 20 million died.

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The 1918 Flu Pandemic - scene in hospital,Fort Riley,Kansas (pix from National Museum of Health and Medicine, Armed Forces Institute of Pathology)

But there’s been less than 150 people dead from the current flu pandemic! That’s much much less than the 36,000 Americans that die yearly from seasonal flu epidemics…so why the fuss?

Well, the number of deaths doesn’t matter – it’s the transmission in the human population that’s the key. Also, part of the confusion was also from WHO itself in terms of their definition of what constitutes a pandemic. For years, the organization’s Web site defined an influenza pandemic as causing “enormous numbers of deaths and illness.” This is their recently revised version:

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So then, the number of deaths don’t really matter, as long as there is widespread human-to-human transmission across borders. One thing for sure – all good (and bad) things will come to pass and the post-pandemic stage will signal the end of the pandemic.

As I’ve mentioned before, where there are threats, there are opportunities..and the swine flu has not been spared. Several marketeers (call them innovative, if you will) have come up with several products that are purported to protect against the H1N1 virus. These include:

–A shampoo that claimed to protect against the H1N1 flu virus;
–A dietary supplement that claimed to protect infants and young children from contracting the H1N1 flu virus;
–A “new” supplement that claimed to cure H1N1 flu infection within four to eight hours.

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The magnitude of these false claims has reached proportions that has caused the US FDA to issue a news release on June 15 2009 warning against fraudulent adverts that claim to diagnose, prevent, mitigate, treat or cure the 2009 H1N1 flu virus. See the full list here.

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Tackling Rising Healthcare Costs…the Chinese Way

The current H1N1Virus epidemic illustrates how expensive healthcare can become. Apart from the increased manpower costs in conducting tamiflusurveillance checks globally, the individual senses some of the impact as well – take the cost of a course of Tamiflu, one of two antiviral drugs that can mitigate influenza in general.  At nearly US$6 a capsule, the complete course of 10 is going to create quite a dent in your pocket if you’re uninsured.

China has now come up with an affirmative program to reduce healthcare costs – the use of traditional medicines, which in general costs much less than Western medicine.

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Chinese Herbs - a popular form of Traditional Medicine

The State Council, the country’s Cabinet, pledged in a circular Thursday to enable every community and village health service center, at the lowest level of the program, to provide traditional medicine service for citizens.It ordered local governments at county level or higher to include traditional medicine hospitals in their health service networks. County hospitals were also encouraged to set up traditional medicine departments.

Traditional Chinese medicine has its unique theories and practices in areas such as herbal medicines, acupuncture, massage and dietary therapy, which is independent from Western medicine.

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Acupuncture - widely accepted in Western medicine nowadays

For some time, traditional Chinese medicine was sidelined as many of its theories could not be explained by modern medicine but it recently became popular among Chinese as an alternative way to keep fit. Indeed, acupuncture has found acceptability in many Western medicine circles nowadays. Costs for acupuncture treatment for chronic back-ache is now reimbursible by most private insurance companies in the US.

One important problem that may create difficulty in promulgating traditional medicine is the fact that a lot of valuable knowledge was not passed from the older generation to the younger due to lack of documentation and some important therapies have been lost.According to the circular, the government plans to register ancient medical books, develop a catalog and set up a digital data base for them. It will also support research and publishing of these books.

Its about time more countries sit up, take notice and develop their own initiatives to develop alternative and complementary medicine strategies – the cost-savings can be tremendous.

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