Friday, May 1, 2009

Swine (...I mean H1N1) Flu Hits Harvard

View H1N1 Swine Flu in a larger map

I have been (whether it's obvious or not) avoiding blogging about swine flu, now referred to as H1N1. However, since classes at the Harvard Dental School, Medical School, and School of Public Health were cancelled today, I I decided to take this extra 2 hours in my Friday to write a brief post from a public health students' perspective.
The widely communicated message of "be concerned, but not alarmed" jives well with what I know about the cases that have emerged in the US and suggests that ongoing monitoring will respond to any changes in cases or further mutations of the virus. 

So why is there cause for concern?
  • This is a new strain of the flu virus, which means that those who received flu shots last Fall will not be protected against it.
  • We still do not know why young, healthy people are dying in Mexico, but not in the US. The US only has 1 confirmed death at this point of a Mexican toddler in Texas. 
  • Flu is and always has been a deadly disease. The CDC estimates that nearly 36,000 people die from the flu each year.
But not alarm?
  • Cases tend to be spreading slowly in the US, mostly to people in close contact with individuals that traveled to Mexico (parents, siblings, children, etc.).
  • Tamiflu and Relenza, two stockpiled antiviral medications, are available to treat people who get infected with H1N1.
  • Local, State, and Federal governments are collaborating to make sure that resources reach those who need them and have a flu emergency plan.
I must say I was a little surprised that HSPH cancelled classes today (as well as a couple on-campus conferences). Few students have classes on Fridays, so perhaps it was the least disruptive day to do so. Additionally, if more students have been infected the weekend may give time for symptoms to emerge so that others do not get sick, as well.

Nonetheless, I am feeling great (for anyone out there that cares). I am washing my hands frequently (especially after riding public transit) and making sure I eat well and get enough sleep. I always try to avoid sick people -- so that's not a change I need to make. Friends, I encourage you to do the same. Leave your lovely blue masks at home.

To learn more about emerging cases in the US check out the CDC site for global cases of H1N1 see the WHO website

I wonder what Google came up with for the Swine flu outbreak. Did they see anything on Google Flu Trends? Check it out here.

Next Steps:
More to come on how an infectious disease, like swine flu, intersects with social determinants of health including discrimination and poverty.

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