WHO declares swine flu pandemic ‘imminent’

The bubonic plague killed 75 to 200 million people in the 14th century. Centuries later, the Spanish flu of 1918 massacred 50 to 100 million lives. Today, the world is waiting anxiously to see how the swine flu, or H1N1, will affect the world’s population. The 2009 strain of H1N1 has caused so much concern because many facts are still unknown about the illness. H1N1, in itself, is the most common cause of influenza, causing half of each year’s cases. However, the 2009 strain of the illness is more worrisome than the typical flu because it has components of pig and bird flu viruses, which humans have not been vaccinated or naturally immunized from. The mass hysteria over the new strain began soon after the Mexican government noticed an increase in an influenza-like illness in Mexico City. H1N1 was brought to national attention after the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) alerted the media about two influenza cases in Mexico. The CDC and World Health Organization (WHO) officially declared on April 24 that the illness was a new strain of H1N1. The next day, the WHO declared a “public health emergency of international concern” and four days later raised the pandemic alert level to level five, the second highest, which states that “a pandemic is imminent.” Since then, people around the world have been flocked around their television sets and computer screens, waiting for any news about the illness. Many people have become so worried about the new strain of H1N1 that they have taken drastic measures to stay healthy. People began to become even more hysteric after the illness spread into the United States. “On the way to California, in the airports, there were all these people wearing those stupid masks,” junior Jessica King said. “The masks don’t even do anything! I think they’re all just freaking out too much.” Day by day, more cases began to pop up around the country. The first confirmed case was in California, but the illness soon spread and now there are confirmed or suspected cases in every state except West Virginia. Iowa first became aware of the illness when a woman from Des Moines county and a man from Clinton county were reported to have symptoms associated with the new strain of H1N1. On May 3, another suspected case was reported in Marshall county, causing the Marshalltown School District to shut down all of the schools in the town for three days. The town of Marshalltown has especially been hard hit, having 48 out of the 56 confirmed cases in Iowa. Ames has had only one confirmed case, an Iowa State University student from Marshalltown. “I had the flu, and I honestly thought it was the swine flu, and I was just in Marshalltown,” junior Regan Davis said. The new strain of H1N1 has several of the same symptoms associated with the common flu. These symptoms include a high fever, runny nose, body aches, cough, sore throat, headache, fatigue, chills, diarrhea and vomiting. Although the new strain only has a mortality rate of 0.4%, it is important to take preventive measures, such as staying home when one is sick, coughing into one’s sleeve, and washing one’s hands frequently, in order to stay healthy and to help stop the spread of the swine flu. While the H1N1 virus has the lethal potential to catastrophically affect the world’s population, people today are more informed about what to do to stop a pandemic from spreading. For the good of mankind, we can only hope that the swine flu does not take the same path as its predecessors.