Wednesday, July 15

H1N1/swine flu: Then let life, and death, and the fall of democratic governments be your teachers, fools

In 2009, because of globalisation and the huge amount of international travel, the virus is taking six weeks to spread," says Dr. Somchai of the WHO. "In previous pandemics, it took six months to spread."

According to another report it took the 1918 pandemic virus only four months to make its first pass around the globe. And it could be that the 2009 swine flu made its first round-trip in less than a month.

But I won't quibble with Somchai because his point holds true -- although it would have been helpful if he'd made the remark earlier. Instead, he waited all this time to inform the public about what's been plain as day to swine flu watchers since May.

Speaking of influenza and air travel, the import of the following news item needs no explanation for readers who've been following my posts on swine flu since April.

For those just tuning into the swine flu story I'm afraid you have a lot of catching up to do. For now I'll just say that for months I've argued that the biggest obstacle to fighting a pandemic has been blanket institutional bias against staging a defense against the swine flu virus at the international airports.

There is by now a huge body of evidence to back up my argument, yet the biomedical and public health establishments continue to ignore it. They continue to claim that because you can't 'stop' the virus after it's entered a country, it's no use trying to slow down the infections that come through the international airports.

And when I repeatedly pointed out that China's astoundingly successful swine-flu fighting policy stages its first line of defense at its international airports, I was met with silence or the reply that China's government was lying about their number of confirmed swine flu cases.

I don't know what answer to give people who refuse to drill down into the data except maybe to tell them, Then let life, and death, and the fall of democratic governments be your teachers, fools:
HEALTH-THAILAND: As H1N1 Spreads, Thais Take Cover Behind Surgical Masks
By Marwaan Macan-Markar

BANGKOK, Jul 15 (IPS) - [...] With over 4,000 reported cases, [Thailand] remains the worst hit by the [swine flu] pandemic in Asia.


This week, the Bangkok Metropolitan Authority shut down 435 public schools, 200 nurseries and 13 occupational training centres. These centres of learning will remain shut for five days.

The concern about the H1N1 pandemic spreading across this South-east Asian country of 65 million people is understandable. In mid-May, when Thailand hosted a meeting of the region’s health ministers to draft measures to deal with the new virus, there were no reported cases here. The only four cases in Asia at the time were in South Korea and Hong Kong, with three cases being reported in the former.

Currently, 24 people have died out of the over 4,000 confirmed cases of the type-A H1N1 virus, according to public health authorities.

That works out to a 0.4 percent fatality rate, or four deaths out of 1,000 infected patients, which places it at a manageable Level Two, according to World Health Organisation (WHO) calculations. Countries are expected to shut their borders if the virus hits Level Five.

China, the regional giant, by contrast, had reported over 2,000 cases by the first week of this month [China's first confirmed case in Hong Kong was reported May 4; the Mainland's first case was reported May 11].

Japan had reported 1,790 cases, Philippines reported 1,709 cases, and Singapore reported 1055 cases, up to that period, according to the WHO.

In order to deal with the virus spreading further in Thailand, public health experts are prescribing measures that seek to slow the spread of the virus, rather than trying to stop it infecting people.

"This is not the time to contain the virus. All the effort should go to mitigation," says Dr. Somchai Peerapakorn, of the WHO’s Thailand country office. "Now you cannot stop the virus. We have to slow down the spread by protecting the population."

"This is a brand new virus. Nobody can say what will happen next," he explained in an interview. "Measures to deal with the virus should be proportional and rational according to each country’s situation."

The profile of those infected by H1N1 provides pointers to help shape mitigation efforts. "The picture of those infected here are pretty much the same as those infected internationally. They are children, young adults and working age people," says Dr. Supamit Chunsuttiwat, a specialist in preventive medicine at Thailand’s public health ministry.

Yet what remains uncertain for now in a country that has impressive public health facilities when set against its poorer neighbours such as Burma, Cambodia and Laos is the exact number of H1N1 cases. "The number of real cases may be much higher," Dr. Supamit told IPS.

That stems from the country being among the most open in the region, welcoming a steady flow of tourists, a factor that has made Thailand more vulnerable to the virus than those with less airline passenger traffic.

"The spread of the virus is because of our exposure," says Dr. Supamit. "We welcome so many tourists. Smaller countries with less exposure to tourists are having a less impact."

Thailand’s challenge to slow the spread of H1N1 comes at a time when the WHO confirmed on Monday that the new flu is "unstoppable" and recommended that all countries seek "access to vaccines."


The speed at which the virus has spread from one corner of the globe to Thailand, on the other side, points to a new reality.

"In 2009, because of globalisation and the huge amount of international travel, the virus is taking six weeks to spread," says Dr. Somchai of the WHO. "In previous pandemics, it took six months to spread."
If you want to drill down into the airport angle and other matters I've argued regarding swine flu, Procrustes at RBO has not only been crossposting my posts at her blog (and illustrating them with great graphics/photographs), she's also been keeping track of all the posts in her Swine Flu Reader

No comments: