Topics in Health: Lessons From The Field
H1N1/Swine Flu: Useful Resources
Although scientists and public health officials have long worried that an avian flu virus would spark the world's next influenza pandemic - and developed emergency plans for it - it is a mutated swine flu virus that has emerged as the bigger threat. The current swine flu outbreak, which appears to have originated in Mexico, is a worldwide pandemic as defined by the World Health Organization on June 11, 2009.
As of December 6, 2009, more than 208 countries and overseas territories or communities have reported laboratory-confirmed cases of H1N1/swine flu, including at least 9,596 deaths. Most countries have stopped counting individual cases, but as of September 6th, the World Health Organization (WHO) reported more than 277,607 laboratory-confirmed cases with at least 3,205 deaths. On July 24, 2009, the U.S. Centers for Disease Control stopped reporting individual confirmed and probable cases of H1N1 infection and now reports only hospitalizations and deaths. Between Aug. 30 and Dec. 5, 2009, 33,490 Americans had been hospitalized with laboratory-confirmed H1N1 infections and 1,445 died of the disease.
Swine and avian influenza viruses occur naturally among pigs and birds, though not in humans. Humans have rarely gotten these diseases unless they work closely with these animals. However, avian and swine flu viruses may mutate into a form that can jump from animal to human - and then from human to human. Because humans have no immunity to these new viruses, becoming infected can have catastrophic results.
The H1N1 virus combines swine, avian and human viruses. Between 2003 and September 2008, 387 people contracted avian flu, and 245 of them died from the disease. The World Health Organization and Centers for Disease Control and Prevention have dedicated significant resources for avian flu surveillance, mostly in areas of Southeast Asia, where the virus is endemic. In the United States, county, state and federal public health officials spend significant resources on pandemic-related emergency preparedness.
Here are some resources as you cover this unfolding story. Also check out updated information and ideas at Los Angeles Times investigative reporter William Heisel's blog and my health policy blog here at ReportingonHealth. (Last updated 12/14/09)
Understanding Avian and Swine Flu
This government Web site provides information on pandemic flu and swine and avian influenza for the general public, health and emergency preparedness professionals, policy makers, government and business leaders, school systems, and local communities. It also has state-specific information and a page dedicated to research and development on a vaccine.
The Nieman Reports, published by the Nieman Foundation for Journalism at Harvard University, compiled discussions from a 2006 conference on covering "the next big health crisis" about preparing for and covering pandemics. The advice from an infectious disease expert and leading journalists is helpful for covering swine flu, avian flu, SARS and other diseases.
Created by biochemist Henry L. Niman, founder of Recombinomics, this map tracks cases of swine flu in the United States and abroad. It's not clear how often this map will be updated.
The professional association offers a comprehensive list of experts, links, reports, and tip sheets. Some resources are only available to AHJC members.
The Center for Infectious Disease Research & Policy at the University of Minnesota in 2007 published a seven-part series on the challenges of developing vaccines to prevent an influenza pandemic. The series examined issues related to the H5N1 avian influenza virus but offers helpful lessons for swine flu vaccine development.
Statistics, Trends and Research
The CDC's Web page on swine flu provides fact sheets, scientific background on viruses and updated surveillance statistics.
The CDC's Web page on avian flu provides similar background information and constantly-updated statistics.
WHO, the leading authority on worldwide epidemics and pandemics provides international information and up-to-date statistics on swine flu.
WHO also maintains a similar Web page on avian flu.
HHS provides an easy-to-understand presentation from HHS on pandemic influenzas throughout the 20thcentury.
This membership organization ofphysicians, scientists and other health care professionals who specialize in infectious diseases provides information on the biology of avian flu and prevention issues, including vaccine development. Site also provides access to infectious disease experts
The NCSL's Web site has a section dedicated to state-level pandemic flu preparedness.
This center, based at Johns Hopkins and Georgetown universities, provides information on the powers and rights of the government and individuals during pubic health emergencies. The Web site provides copies of public health emergency powers legislation enacted in some states in anticipation of acts of bioterrorism or pandemic flu.
This federal agency's Web site has a section dedicated to current issues and research in emergency preparedness.
The oldest and largest organization of public health professionals in the world, APHA advocates for increased resources for public health agencies to prepare for pandemic flu.
Guidance for Consumers
This federal government Web page offers pandemic planning guidance for consumers.
Michael Coston, a retired emergency medical technician, blogs on swine flu, avian flu and other emerging infectious diseases,with an emphasis on personal and community preparedness
A regularly updated collection of news stories and blog posts emphasizing international developments in swine and avian flu.
This blog, by public health scientists and physicians who prefer to remain anonymous, offers a public health perspective on swine flu containment.
This blog is sponsored by the American Public Health Association.