On the 30th of June 2009, a report was released by the South China Morning Post (subscription required) outlining the details relating to a wide spread infection of H3N2 flu throughout
At the issuing of the afore mentioned report Swine Flu accounted for 49% of all flu infections in Hong Kong, while the H3N2 strain accounted for 43%. However, without knowing what the genetic changes in the virus actually mean, these figures are not terrible in and of themselves. What is concerning is the fact that the genetic mutation observed in Hong Kong has also been noted by public health officials in
H3N2 Flu viruses are not new to science, in fact, none of the "A" type influenzas are unknown - they all tend to occur seasonally in populations around the world. Swine Flu, for instance, is a relation to the Spanish Flu of 1918 - 1919 (one of the main reasons for inflated levels of caution when dealing with this strain), and reappeared in North America during 1976 - leading to one confirmed fatality and a Presidential decision for national vaccination across the
The first identification of an H3N2 influenza strain occurred in
All of the A Type Influenzas (H1N1, H2N2, H3N2, H5N1, etc) are naturally carried by wild Fowl, and have been demonstrated to be transmitted between wild fowl and humans or pigs. These viruses can then be transmitted from Humans to Pigs or Humans to Domestic poultry. The 2009 incidence of H1N1, or Mexican Swine Flu, is thought to be based in a transmission from pigs to humans at pig farms in rural
This transmission vector means that in certain parts of the world, those where humans, swine, and poultry live in close proximity to each other, it is relatively easy for new flu strains to occur. This fact is evidenced by the recent global outbreak of Mexican Swine Flu which is believed to have jumped from pigs in massive industrial farms to humans. A similar situation is with regards to the H5N1 strain of Avian Influenza (Bird Flu), which continues to have periodic outbreaks in areas with large numbers of migratory birds. Avian Influenza is believed to have jumped from domestic fowl and poultry populations in southern
All of this information means that while healthcare professionals and scientists may have a general understanding of the way that global pandemics may progress, we cannot be 100% certain of any given outcome. Which is why, when the mutation of the H3N2 virus was noted in
The fact that Swine Flu has been relegated to a "second tier" of news rather than dominating headlines around the world should raise some serious alarms. While most major governments have assured their populations that the resources are in place to fight the pandemic, the question of whether those resources will continue to work going into the northern hemisphere's winter months remains unanswered. If the genetic changes in the H3N2 virus prove to be worse than we currently imagine, and if those changes - as currently thought - have the potential to render current anti-viral drug stocks irrelevant, how are we prepared to deal with the fallout?
In places like the USA, where the headlines are currently being dominated by a debate on Obama's Healthcare Reform Proposal (a topic on which we will expand in a later post), it is understandable that Swine Flu, perceived in the USA as a relatively mild seasonal flu, is not receiving the full attention that it deserves. However, with the H3N2 mutation being observed in populations where the Swine Flu infection is spiraling out of control (as in Britain, where the number of confirmed cases has exceeded 55,000 people and is rising) something must be done sooner rather than later.
Who knows what the end result could be.