Since April 2009 the world has been suffering from a pandemia that is, in a way, not a totally new one. “Although this influenza strain surprised us in a couple of ways…… the fact that a novel strain has arisen and is being transmitted from human to human is not a surprise,” says Dr. Michael Pichichero, a specialist in pediatric infectious diseases from Rochester, NY, in the latest publication of Pediatric News. Dr. Pichichero goes on to describe three other novel viral species causing disease in humans. Why the uproar with the new Influenza A (H1N1)?
We don’t know a lot about the new virus, but we do have some historic information about its close relative, the influenza virus that caused the 1918 pandemia that killed near 50 million people. The virus we see today has genetic information from the virus that affects pigs, which is why this pandemia was referred to as “swine flu” initially, and also from bird and human strains.
Dr. K’s Top 10 Flu Myths
Starting every fall, we witness the circulation of two viruses in the community: the Influenza A (H1N1) and the seasonal influenza. Authorities recommend getting the seasonal influenza vaccine as soon as it becomes available, and the Influenza A (H1N1) vaccine when it gets ready to be distributed.
Why are we going to need two vaccines? The influenza virus undergoes changes in its genome every year, and therefore we need to develop a matching vaccine for every season. This vaccine may – in theory – have some protection against the novel H1N1 virus, but the truth is that we don’t know to what extent. We do know that the protection wouldn’t be relevant or sufficient anyway. That is the reason for the development of a second vaccine this season.
I don’t want to sound alarmist, but I am aware of what viruses can do, and I am concerned about the co-mingling of two influenza strains in the same person. Especially if the host has a chronic debilitating condition, which in my world of pediatric patients means mainly Asthma or Congenital Heart Disease.
My advice to the population in general is to make sure to get the seasonal flu vaccine as soon as possible, and follow the CDC recommendations when the new vaccine becomes available. The cases of Influenza A (H1N1) I have seen so far have been mild, with symptoms resembling the regular seasonal flu. We are hoping for the best but preparing for the worst. In the meantime, remember to follow the universal precautions to reduce the spread of any virus: wash your hands and cover your mouth when coughing or sneezing.
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