Here are some interesting numbers comparing the swine flu (H1N1 influenza) to past influenza outbreaks:
Seasonal influenza has about 3-5 million severe cases each year with 250,000-500,000 fatalities annually. In the 1918 pandemic influenza there were 1-1.5 million fatalities. In the 1968 pandemic influenza there were 1 million fatalities. In the 2009 H1N1 influenza or Swine flu , there have been 40,617 confirmed and probable cases and 263 fatalities (as of July 17th). Alabama has had 477 confirmed and probable cases of swine flu and no deaths.
A brief review of the timeline of the swine flu outbreak:
The first H1N1 patient in the US was confirmed on April 15, 2009. The second patient was confirmed on April 17th. On April 26th, the US Government declared a public health emergency. On June 11th, the World Health Organization activated Phase 6 of their pandemic alert scale meaning that they officially recognized the virus is at the pandemic phase. At that time, more than 70 countries had reported cases of H1N1 infection. By June 29th, all 50 states in the US, District of Colubia, US Virgin Islands and Puerto Rico had reported H1N1 infection.
Nationwise US influenza surveillance systems seem to indicate that overall influenza activity is decreasing in the US. Although the 2009 H1N1 influenza has relatively low infection and death rates, the CDC continues to monitor the situation carefully. They have already begun work on creating a vaccine that will be effective against the Swine flu in preparation for the flu season this fall.
Interestingly, spread of the swine flu through water is not likely this summer because the amount of chlorine used in swimming pools and even tap water is adequate to inactive the virus. Human to human spread is still possible so protect yourself with handwashing and covering your mouth when coughing or sneezing!
Brooke Uptagrafft, MD
Dr. Brooke is a family medicine doctor.