Flu virus needs vigilant efforts


POSTED: Wednesday, July 01, 2009
This story has been corrected.  See below.

Initial fears about swine flu subsided with reports that the virus lacked the characteristics of the pandemic flu that killed millions in 1918, but a sharp rise in afflictions should increase efforts to bring it under control. The first death involving the disease in Hawaii should refocus attention to the problem without causing undue alarm.

A woman in her late 60s died June 19 in Tripler Army Medical Center from “;multiple serious health issues,”; including the H1N1 — swine flu — influenza infection. A week later, the number of confirmed and probable swine flu cases in Hawaii jumped from 279 to 465, 16th highest among states.

The World Health Organization earlier in June raised its alert on swine flu to Phase 6, its highest level and the first such designation since 1968, when the Hong Kong flu killed about 700,000 people worldwide. While describing the flu as “;moderate”; in severity, Margaret Chan, the organization's director general, said the world is “;at the earliest days of a global pandemic.”;

An average of 36,000 Americans a year die from ordinary seasonal flu, and 127 of the more than 27,000 who probably had or were confirmed to have contracted swine flu have died, according to state reports compiled by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. However, while seasonal flu can be treated, drug makers are believed to be four to six months away from producing a vaccine for H1N1 in large quantities.

Chan said most people who have contracted swine flu experience only mild symptoms and a full recovery. The death of the woman in Hawaii is an example of the toll it can take on those vulnerable because of other health problems. The only other Hawaii person who has been hospitalized with swine flu also had “;underlying health issues,”; according to the state Department of Health.

Until a vaccine is found, the state should make an extra effort to ensure that all specimens of Influenza A , of which swine flu is a recognizable version, are spotted and their specific identities determined.

A recent study by a group of Canadian doctors “;found a remarkably strong degree of correlation”; between the number of travelers departing from Mexico in March and April and confirmed importation of the swine-flu virus in other countries. In a May 20 column on these pages, state Senator Mike Gabbard called for “;learning from and emulating what other island states/nations,”; such as Australia and Japan, are doing to implement “;aggressive, proactive screening measures at their points of entry.”;

However, WHO's raising of the swine-flu alert in June followed an emergency meeting with flu experts that was convened after a sharp rise in cases in Australia and rising numbers in Japan and elsewhere. The state now asks crews of international flights to report travelers who appear to be sick so they can be screened, which should be sufficient.






Mike Gabbard is a state senator, not a representative as was stated in an editorial yesterday on Pg. 23.