In early 2009 an outbreak of flu virus in Mexico City sent the media and the local population into a panic over the possibility that a new pandemic flu virus may be emerging within the country. The virus was identified as what was then called the swine flu and has since been renamed H1N1 virus.
Most of the people who were severely affected by the virus in Mexico were young, healthy adults who were between the ages of three and 60. It appeared that no one under the age of three and no one over the age of 60 were as severely affected as others. Following this initial observation researchers were able to determine that those over the age of 60 had been exposed to a similar virus earlier in their life and had been effectively immunized against this particular strain. (1,2)
Apparently, US public health officials did not become aware of the growing outbreak of the H1N1 virus in Mexico until nearly a week after the country began protective measures. At the same time of the apparent outbreak in Mexico City epidemiologists in Southern California were investigating milder cases of the illness. All of this came on the heels of the 2001 terrorist attacks, the outbreak of severe acute respiratory syndrome (SARS) and the issues of bird flu or H5N1 in Asia. Following these events communication between countries had appeared to be more open but in this case the communication was delayed.
Today, the H1N1 flu virus is considered to be a pandemic. The last pandemic was in 1968 when the Hong Kong flu killed approximately one million people around the world. This is compared to the number of deaths caused by the 1918 and 1919 flu virus which numbered over 20 million individuals around the world. Because of the open availability of worldwide travel and closed air systems used in air flight, the virus is more easily spread from country to country than it once was.
However, scientists and researchers have also discovered new ways of supporting an individual’s body through severe cases of flu and anticipate that the number of deaths will be significantly less than they were during the 1968 pandemic.
The virus was originally called the swine flu before researchers discovered that it was actually a genetic mutation of a virus that infected pigs, birds and humans. At one point Israeli health officials were requesting that the pandemic be changed to “Mexican flu” because the reference to pigs was offensive to Jews and Muslims. However, while it appeared that a large majority of the initial cases were found in Mexico City, researchers are still unsure as to wear the flu virus actually originated. There is nothing particularly “Mexican” about the virus and it was not renamed. (3)
In 1976 a strain of the swine flu caused an illness in 13 soldiers at Fort Dix in New Jersey. One soldier eventually succumbed to the disease and died. The federal government feared a pandemic and began mass immunizations across the country but it was halted when the virus did not spread in some of the individuals who received the vaccine developed a rare neurological disorder.
Unfortunately, the vaccine, which is now being prepared to prevent the spread of H1N1, has also undergone minimal safety evaluations. In an effort to protect the pharmaceutical industry and manufacturers who are providing the flu vaccine the federal government has offered a blanket coverage against any civil or criminal charges based on any side effects and individual may suffer from the flu vaccine being offered for the H1N1 virus.
(1) ConsumerReports.org: Adults Over May Have Protection Against Swine Flu
(2) Center for Disease Control and Prevention: Serum Cross-Reactive Antibody Response to a Novel Influenza A (H1N1) Virus After Vaccination with Seasonal Influenza Vaccine
(3) University of Oxford: Swine Flu Origins Revealed