H1N1: Gone but Not Forgotten

By UA Risk Services

While major concern by health professionals and media hype over the recent H1N1 (swine flu) outbreak has diminished, the flu should not be forgotten. Each year, about 36,000 people die in the United States due to seasonal influenza and its complications. Under normal seasonal circumstances, the flu (a variety of different types of influenza) circulate within the population with little news coverage or concern. With this latest outbreak, however, a great deal of concern developed among national health professionals with equal amounts of news coverage to go along with it. 

The difference this year?  The H1N1 virus, at first known as the swine flu.

The H1N1 virus we are now experiencing is known as a novel virus, or rather an influenza virus that  is genetically different than other viruses normally experienced seasonally. This virus was originally referred to as “swine flu” because of its similarity to influenza viruses that normally occur in swine here in North America. However, with further study it was determined that this new virus was very different from what was first thought, with two genes from flu viruses normally seen in pigs in Europe and Asia along with avian and and human genes.

Differences with this outbreak don’t stop there. Perhaps one of the biggest concerns with this outbreak has been its ability to spread quickly with more than 50,000 reported cases worldwide since April. This flu also tends to infect young adults at a higher rate than other flu. This break from the normal pattern of seasonal flu behavior reminds scientists of the Spanish flu pandemic of 1918, where tens of millions died worldwide.

What can be done about the flu here and now?

Fortunately there are steps we can take to prevent the spread of H1N1 and other flu. First, practice good respiratory etiquette, such as covering your mouth when you sneeze or cough. Coughing into your elbow is better than coughing into your hands, which can spread germs more quickly. Second, wash  hands often with hot soapy water and avoid placing hands near the eyes or mouths. Third, stay home if you're sick. 

These simple measures are significant enough to help us safeguard ourselves and others. As UA students, faculty and staff return back to campuses this fall, we need to emphasize these  measures to prevent time and effort lost to this flu. 

For more information, you may go to the Risk Services website at http://www.alaska.edu/risksafety/a_alerts/swine-flu/index.xml. This site contains helpful links to other websites, including UAF's "on alert" page, the national Centers for Disease Control and others.


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