This week, the World Health Organization (WHO) belatedly announced that the H1N1 virus, formerly known as swine flu, is now a worldwide pandemic. WHO seemed to have dragged its feet on making this call, perhaps in an effort to avoid creating global anxiety. What does this mean for Americans? Not much. H1N1 already exists in all 50 states and our federal and state governments have been on high alert for weeks. What will change is that vaccine companies will begin manufacturing millions of H1N1 vaccines, which won’t be ready until the fall. Creating a new vaccine is a tremendous undertaking. It takes an enormous amount of money and scientific expertise. In addition, if the virus mutates later, then the vaccine may be less effective against it. Later this year, Americans may receive the H1N1 vaccine as well as the typical flu shot.
In addition to the vaccine manufacturers, the H1N1 pandemic will have a huge impact on another group of Americans – the press. Get ready for a few days of 24/7 wall to wall pandemic coverage, even though the situation won’t change from day to day.
Although you can’t spell the word pandemic without the letters P-A-N-I-C, breathe in slowly and relax. A pandemic doesn’t mean that a deadly scourge will wipe out cities and countries. The vast majority of H1N1 infections are mild and complete recovery is expected.
For travelers, the WHO specifically stated this week that is does not advise any restrictions on international travel. Of course, travelers should consult with a travel doctor before departure to discuss disease trends in their destinations and to make sure that all travel vaccinations are up-to-date. For those traveling later this year, the H1N1 vaccine may be on the list.