For this week's Global Pulse episode, Swine Flu: The Vaccination, host Erin Coker asks, Will you get vaccinated? Share your thoughts and watch this episode below!
When I first learned of swine flu, I dismissed the general reaction as unnecessary panic over something no more threatening than – well, catching the flu. Inconvenient and uncomfortable, but hardly the second coming of the 1918 influenza pandemic.
Then I caught the H1N1 virus myself. After being diagnosed, I took comfort in the fact that, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, of the estimated 1 million Americans believed to have been infected with the virus between April and June, only about 593 have died. To provide a bit of perspective, seasonal flu can result in up to 500,000 deaths worldwide each year. So if you do get swine flu, chances are it will not kill you, or even result in serious symptoms. I am living proof, although there were times over the last week when I wasn’t so sure.
"Uncomfortable and inconvenient" is an understatement. I am a generally healthy young person, but I was immobilized by a high fever, chills, severe muscle pain and fatigue. I would be dishonest if I said that there weren't a few scary moments when I felt compelled to inhale deeply to make certain my lungs were still working. The normally benign shadows on my ceiling took on a menacing hallucinatory quality. Would ever feel like myself again?
Six days of bed rest, fluids and the antiviral Tamiflu later, I am starting to feel better. So, have my feelings about swine flu changed? Yes and no.
As ABC News reported earlier this week, thousands of people have contracted swine flu in recent months and have made a full recovery. Global mortality rates to date are lower than those associated with seasonal flu -- the World Health Organization (WHO) reports 2,837 H1N1 deaths worldwide -- but health experts have noted that H1N1 may cause more severe illness and death in younger adults and children than does the seasonal flu. Reuters reported that the WHO has also warned of a severe strain of swine flu that can cause acute respiratory illness in otherwise healthy young people.
More disturbing is the potential threat to developing countries, which often lack the resources to produce vaccines. A recent report released by a UK-based global risks intelligence firm (PDF) notes that while Western nations may be at the greatest risk of spreading H1N1, they also have significant resources to contain the proliferation of the virus. In contrast, Sub-Saharan Africa stands out as the area least able to contain an influenza pandemic. Underdeveloped health facilities and the difficulty of accessing doctors in rural areas could pose further risks to vulnerable populations.
Nonetheless, as I read recent reports warning of a more aggressive second wave of H1N1, or speculations of a deadly mutated super virus, I recall what Indian blogger Hariharan Krishnamurthy wrote in mid-August after a swine flu outbreak killed 20 people in Mumbai and in the western city of Pune: "There is a mass hysteria about the swine flu... The news channels are adding fuel to the fire... and newspapers showing only the negativity... I am not trying to undermine the seriousness of the issue but also so much panic is also not at all required."
A good reminder that prudence and preventative measures are best combined with a healthy dose of perspective. Take it from one of the latest statistics.