We have previously reported that the World Health Organization (WHO) declared the H1N1 flu (aka Swine flu) to a full blown level 6 pandemic status.  In a Washington Post article John Barry, author of “The Great Influenza”, discusses what can and can’t be done to protect against the H1N1 flu. 

According to the article,  the impact of the pandemic and how many people the virus will sicken and kill depends on three things:

  1. The virus itself
  2. “Non-pharmaceutical interventions”
  3. The availability and effectiveness of a vaccine

The current H1N1 outbreak is following a similar behavioral pattern to the previously documented pandemics of initial sporadic activity with local instances of high attack rates, followed four to eight months later by waves of widespread illness with 20 – 40 percent of the population sickened.  The article indicates this is a 2 to 4 times increase of the normal percent of sickened people with annual flu.

While we don’t have control over the virus itself Mr. Barry indicates we do have control over the “non-pharmaceutical interventions ” (NPI’s) and vaccine.

The article indicated that the challenges with NPI’s are:

a) they are limited and the primary impact will be on flattening the pandemics peak and stretching out the duration of the illness which would take some of the stress off the infrastructure that is used to treat the illness.

b) the “fear fatigue” that can be associated with a long term warnings.   Barry said “Scholars Bradley Condon and Tapen Sinha found that in Mexico City this spring, when the government advised wearing masks on public transportation, compliance peaked at 65 percent three days later — but declined to 26 percent only five days after that. “ 

According to the Post article the most important human intervention is the vaccine.    The major issues here are developing an effective vaccine and having the supply available to treat the public.

Barry noted that we should not lose site of the H5N1 influenza strain (commonly known as bird flu) which is still an active and potentially dangerous strain.

 To access and read the entire article (which I strongly urge you to do) click here