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Global Health: Swine Flu Threat Spreads Worldwide

Swine Flu ProtectionConfirmed or suspected cases of swine flu, which was detected in Mexico earlier this month, have now been found in at least seven other countries around the world. The World Health Organization (WHO) says that this outbreak constitutes a “public health emergency of international concern.”

Also known as swine influenza A or H1N1, swine flu is a respiratory disease of pigs that can be passed between humans mainly through coughing and sneezing. In Mexico, there are over 100 deaths possibly linked to swine flu and more than 1,600 people have been sickened with suspected or confirmed cases of the virus. Confirmed cases of swine flu have now also been found in the U.S. and Canada, while New Zealand, Spain, France, Israel and Brazil all have suspected cases. Liz Borkowski, blogging on The Pump Handle, elaborates on why there is concern about the spread of swine flu:

“Swine flu is fairly common, but it’s usually only transmitted from pigs to humans. This new strain appears to be capable of human-to-human transmission, and it’s also sickening young, otherwise-healthy adults. This means the virus has the serious potential to cause a pandemic, so it’s appropriate that Mexico has closed schools until May 6 and barred large public gatherings, including church services.”

American health officials declared a public health emergency on April 26 after confirming 20 cases of swine flu in the states of California, Kansas, New York, Ohio and Texas. Most of these cases were mild, though, and no deaths have been reported. Canada also confirmed six mild cases of swine flu in the provinces of Nova Scotia and British Columbia.

News of swine flu has spread quickly on the Internet, as people search for answers and share their thoughts on the disease. Swine Flu and #swineflu are the top trending topics on Twitter at the moment, and various Google maps have been created to track the outbreak. Bloggers around the world are also talking about swine flu.

Daniel Hernandez, blogging on Intersections, describes this scene in Mexico City:

“On Saturday, while the top brass at the WHO convened an emergency meeting in Geneva, soldiers in Mexico City were passing out face-masks at traffic stops, metro stations, and plazas. A militar in fatigues handed me a mask upon entering metro Bellas Artes, but it fell apart before I could even get on a train. On board, passengers eyed one another suspiciously and made every effort to avoid contact with strangers.”

Matthew Yglesias, blogging for the Center for American Progress Action Fund, expresses concern over how those without health insurance in the U.S. will deal with this disease:

“I have no opinions on this subject beyond the observation that it would be nice to live in a country where, if fell seriously ill due to viral infection, your access to effective medical remedies was not determined by your wealth, income, or employment status.”

Jim McVeagh, blogging from New Zealand on MacDoctor, thinks that more needs to be done in his country and worldwide to contain the virus. In New Zeland, 13 students who recently visited Mexico are suspected of having the disease. McVeagh says:

“Considering the massive over-reaction that occurred with bird flu, one would have hoped for a somewhat more vigorous response to this one than simple monitoring. I would have thought isolation of cases and restriction of travel to Mexico would have been a minimum response until we have more data. Since the CDC [the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention] is now waking up probably about a week too late and the WHO insists on sitting on its hands, New Zealand’s lackadaisical response looks almost brisk in comparison.

While this might indeed be another non-event, it would be nice if health authorities made that call in hindsight rather than apparently up-front with incomplete information.”

Many countries are implementing safety measures to prevent the spread of swine flu. For example, some airports are screening travelers from Mexico for flu symptoms, and China and Russia plan to put anyone with symptoms under quarantine. Vijay Sadasivam, blogging on scan man, says that no preventative initiatives are being taken in India, though, while boinky, blogging on Finestkind Clinic and fish market, describes one measure happening in the Philippines:

“The Philippines will stop importation of pork from the US and Mexico to stop the spread…this is funny, since the flu is being spread human to human, and our own pigs have Ebola Reston…

but of course it's fiesta time, and so far no talk of a human quarantine such as they did with SARS…”

Many bloggers point out that while we should take this threat seriously and be prepared, there's no need to panic just yet. For instance, a post on Utah Preppers says:

“Some quick anti-panic notes…

  • Swine flu CANNOT be transmitted by food. Eating pork does NOT put you at risk.
  • This is NOT the first time the ’swine flu’ has transmitted to humans. It’s happened several times before without it becoming a pandemic.
  • This variant of swine flu, as with any flu, is a virus and primarily spread person-to-person through coughing or sneezing.
  • This is just a flu! The key here is to NOT GET IT.”
  • The WHO isn't currently recommending any travel or trade restrictions, and says they need more information on the virus before deciding whether to raise the global pandemic alert level, which is currently at level three of the six levels.

    Photo of Swine Flu Protection by Sarihuella on Flickr.

    • http://www.diseaseaday.com Roy Schwartz

      You may also want to read:
      http://bit.ly/vaC5

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    • Pingback: EPIDEMIC OF SWINE FLU « global politics

    • nyc_mom

      Check out a blog by author of *Dread* Philip Alcabes. He says swineflu is not a pandemic. WHO, CDC are doing sound public health and we should avoid a panic paradigm:
      http://www.philipalcabes.com

    • Barb Lamont

      In 1918:

      In large U.S cities, more than 10,000 deaths per week were attributed to the virus. It is estimated that as many as 50% of the population was infected, and ~1% died. To compare, in “normal” (interpandemic) years, it is estimated that between 10-20% of the population is infected, with a .008% mortality.

      The fact the current ‘swine flu’ has shown to be contagious is alarming. So far the virus has shown to have a 6% to 6.3% mortality rate. It may not seem like much, but please consider the following: The deadly influenza panic in 1918 had a mortality rate of under 1%.

      This virus went on to kill tens of thousands of healthy people a day in large cities and up to 100 million people world wide.

      Viruses, like this strain of swine flu, kill their host by over-stimulating active immune systems that are robust and healthy. That is why the victims in Mexico were between the ages of 20 and 45.

      Some have said that no one in the United States have died from the virus, so we need not worry. Experts say it is only a matter of time. The virus is not prevalent enough to reach statistical significance in the United States, with only a handful of confirmed cases. 93.7% of all Mexicans with the virus recovered.

      More cause for worry: The 1918 virus started off ‘mild’ before it mutated into a raging storm. It also does not mean we will see millions of deaths. It is too early to draw sweeping conclusions. Nevertheless, there is potential for a disastrous pandemic. If 50% of Americans catch this flu in the next two years, and the mortality rate stays at 6.3%, we would witness 20+ million deaths.

      This strain of virus is more potent and more deadly than the virus that hammered the world in 1918 and 1919. Viruses come in waves. There are striking similarities to this virus and the virus that killed up to 100 million people in 1918. The first wave is historically more mild than the later waves.

      In addition to this virus becoming more severe, it is mutating faster than previous virus that we have seen. In addition, this virus is nothing like we have ever seen before because it combines features from viruses natural in different parts of the globe. We are in uncharted territory.

      If it follows the same path as the 1918 flu, we will see very damaging results. However, we must remember we are a global society now and the virus can spread quicker than we have ever witnessed in history. This is very concerning especially since the drugs we have now seem resistant.

      While there have been no deaths in America, it is shadowed by the fact the common variable among the deaths seem to be age. While most American cases have involved the very young and very old (under 10 and over 50) the Mexican cases that ended fatally involved the robust and healthy (over 20 and under 45).

      This virus kills the host by over-stimulating the immune system. The term that is used when the immune system over reacts is called a Cytokine Storm. It is usually fatal. During this “Storm” over 150 inflammatory mediators are released. This would account for the high mortality rate in 1918-19.

      http://tinyurl.com/d2te2f

    • Stela Yordanova

      Red Cross is ready to respond to swine flu
      Read more http://www.redcross.org.uk/news.asp?id=94489

    • http://www.vqvgroup.com Mira’s Desk

      As with everyting in life it is best to be prepared. Here is a link to the CDC for information on the Swine Flu. http://pfx.me/NR

    • Glenn Clinic

      Basic information is always called for during pandemics and other disease related events. The transmission of the Obama Virus, or ANY virus, on public surfaces, such as handles and bars on buses, subways and trains and other public transportations is always of great concern. Public restroom door handles and surfaces are also always a major concern. It’s good that we can at least disseminate the information of the spread of this to a degree, where the cases have been, but it would also be a good idea if we would be told the symptoms to look out for. How would I immediately recognize if someone has it or may have it? Does it resemble the flu we had last season, say? Since the Obama Virus is so tricky we really have to keep on our toes. Information is always the best policy, but we still need vigilance and common sense, especially in these times of recession and war when we are vulnerable to such a direct mass intrusion in society. Does anyone know or can extrapolate the survival ability of this mix? If it’s spreading so far and wide then it must be pretty elegant in a terrifying sense of that.

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