Posted by: mkirschmd | April 27, 2009

Swine Flu Strikes Hard

180px-pig_usda01c011611Mexico is in the medical news again, and not because they’ve discovered an important cure or a new vaccine.   Nearly 70 deaths from a severe form of swine flu have occurred, and more fatalities are expected.  Over 1000 people are reported ill, but this statistic is a low estimate since many infected individuals have not yet developed symptoms.   In addition, medical experts often underestimate disease outbreak statistics because health departments in many countries have limited resources and expertise.  In addition, it is very challenging to locate and document all infected people, particularly in rural or undeveloped locales.   At this time, only a portion of the illnesses in Mexico are confirmed swine flu infections, but authorities are suspicious that the majority of patients are suffering from this disease.  Several American have already been infected.


In Mexico, fear is spreading faster than the disease.   The government has closed schools, stadiums, museums and libraries in the Mexico City area and has warned millions of citizens there to remain at home and to avoid physical contact with others. 


Swine flu, as the name suggests, ordinarily affects pigs.  However, viruses can mutate creating new strains that can infect other species including humans.  This is why viruses are such a dangerous and unpredictable health hazard. The sneaky swine flu strain has reached into its bag of tricks and can now successfully attack a new target – us.  Epidemiologists, who study disease outbreaks all over the world, are very worried over this development.  You don’t need an M.D. degree to realize that a highly contagious virus that can infect people is a serious threat.


For sure, the number of infected Mexicans will rise.  Additional swine flu cases in the United States are expected.  Other countries are now extremely vigilant about screening travelers returning from swine flu hot spots, but there is no way to keep the virus out.  Customs officials can ask if you are bringing in fresh fruits and vegetables, plants and pets, but there is no suitcase search or scanning device that can detect an even greater threat to public health. 


There will be more news from Mexico in the coming days.  This swine flu epidemic may have started in Mexico, but it might not end there. 


Travel safely.  Before your trip, consult with a travel doctor in your neighborhood who knows the very latest on the swine flu situation, and other disease threats.  While there is no available swine flu vaccine at present there are many strategies to reduce your risk.  At Travel Clinics of America, we believe that planning and preparation are your best protections. 


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