This week, the World Heath Organization (WHO) declared the H1N1 pandemic over.
I was giving talks about H1N1 telling people that “Swine Flu” parties were a bad idea. A Swine Flu party is when someone gets the flu, he/she invites all of their friends over, everybody shares cocktail glasses and big sloppy kisses, and they all do their best to catch the flu. The point is to get the virus early before it mutates into something worse – which, luckily, H1N1 never did.
Novel strains of influenza have, in the past, been devastating. Even in a normal year, influenza kills 36,000 people in this country, and over a half million in the world. Pandemic strains of influenza have killed tens of millions in the past, a truly terrifying prospect.
We were all introduced to the concept of “pandemic influenza” last winter. Most people equated pandemic with severity, but pandemic only really refers to prevalence. If something is pandemic, it is widespread, not necessarily deadly. The H1N1 virus was pandemic, but fear of the virus was even more pandemic.
Companies had influenza plans – they gave careful thought to how they would operate with 40-60% less staff. How do you run a hospital on half staff, or a police department, or a nuclear generator?
People were hoarding antiviral medications. They did their best to talk their doctor into prescribing them several hundred dollars worth of Tamiflu, “just in case.”
The WHO and various counties’ heath department were magnificent. Through a worldwide effort, they identified the virus, and designed and produced millions of doses of vaccine, all in a few short months.
The H1N1 pandemic was a near miss. We heard the bullet. The influenza virus still contains the potential to change into something nasty, and it is highly contagious. This time we were lucky and had the chance to run a worldwide pandemic emergency drill, making us that much more prepared next time. And if history is any indication, there will most likely be a “next time.”
– Dr. Don Bucklin, National MRO – a.k.a. “Dr. B”