On June 11, 2009, Dr. Margaret Chan, Director General of the World Health Organization put the world on high alert because of Swine Flu. She announced that we were experiencing a global pandemic of a new strain of flu. On October 24, 2009, President O’Bama declared Swine Flu a national emergency because the rapid increase in flu-related illnesses threatened to overwhelm the nation’s healthcare resources.
Fast forward to August 10, 2010 when Dr. Chan announced the world has exited the pandemic flu stage and entered what is called the post-peak phase, i.e., “Disease levels in most countries have dropped below peak levels. The post-peak period signifies that pandemic activity appears to be decreasing; however, it is uncertain if additional waves will occur and countries will need to be prepared for a second wave.”
In this phase, the new pandemic flu takes on characteristics of seasonal flu. In fact, H1N1 Swine Flu is one of the three components of the 2010/2011 flu vaccine. Other components are H3N2 – the most widely circulating flu in recent years, and a type B flu. This year’s flu vaccine should be available in health clinics and physician offices in October.
Did the world and the United States overreact to Swine Flu? I don’t think so. I’ve written widely about flu, including articles for nurses, and two juvenile school and library books (Lerner: 2011: USA Today Health Reports: Influenza, and 2007, Influenza). The most deadly epidemic in human history was not the plague, smallpox, or HIV. It was the 1918/19 Spanish Flu pandemic that killed untold millions of people in 18 months.
Scientists discovered that H1N1 Swine Flu was composed of viral RNA from four influenza viruses. To this day, no one is sure how these four viruses came together. But young people had little resistance. The vaccine was delayed for many months. No one could foresee that we lucked out this time and that H1N1 Swine Flu would turn out to be much more benign that first predicted.
For the 2010-2011 flu season, the CDC recommends that all individuals six months and older should be vaccinated. See the recommendations at: www.cdc.gov/flu/professionals/acip/primarychanges.htm. In general, the only exceptions are those allergic to eggs or to the thimerosol used in multi-dose vials. Single-dose vials are available for those with thimerosol allergies.