Sunday, December 4, 2011

WHO Concerned Over a New Flu Virus Spreading From Pigs to Humans

After criticism in Europe that the World Health Organization claimed 2009's swine flu to be a pandemic when in fact the outbreak was comparatively mild, the WHO is being cautious in raising alarm to a new flu virus that has been spreading from pigs to humans. It is an Influenza A virus of the H3N2 subtype, but sufficiently different from current viruses that the H3N2 component of the flu vaccine is not expected to help protect against this new strain.

10 outbreaks of the strain have been isolated in Maine, Indiana, Pennsylvania, and Iowa. In each case, the patient was a child under 10 (with one exception of a 58-year old). This might be because most 21-year-olds (and older) are likely to have had exposure to similar viruses in the past and therefore have a degree of immunity. In the first 7 infections, the virus passed from pigs to humans, but the last 3 cases (in Iowa) were clear cases of human-to-human transmission.

Immunity among the older population would likely prevent the virus from ever becoming a full-blown pandemic, but there is still a possibility the virus could spread child-to-child across countries. The CDC is currently conducting serological research to determine specific vulnerability to the virus; it has also asked the manufacturers who produce seed strains for vaccine companies to produce a vaccine candidate for this new H3N2 strain. WHO is also in the process of devising a name for the virus such that it wouldn't be a problem for any specific agricultural interests (as was the case with objections to the name "swine flu").

I think the proper steps are being taken in regard to the emergence of this new strain - both in developing a preemptive vaccine and in creating a epidemiological system of how to handle the spread of the virus in the chance of increased transmissibility. My personal opinion is that it's also better to be on the safe side and have the general population overly cautious of the virus, rather than to be too worried of garnering criticism and therefore not mounting enough of a response soon enough.

Article here: http://www.cbc.ca/news/health/story/2011/11/28/flu-new-virus.html

-Elena Higuchi

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