Friday, May 1, 2009

H1N1 Swine flu

Disclaimer: I am not a doctor of any sort and anything you read in this blog should never be taken as medical advice. If you have questions about your health please discuss them with your healthcare provider.

So, the swine flu... er.... H1N1 (so as not to piss off any swine) is all the buzz. Masks and gowns and forms and all kinds of scary stuff. I personally think it's being blown a bit out of proportion.

The swine flu, as per the current CDC stats shows 141 confirmed cases of H1N1 in the United states, with 1 fatality. A 23 month old Mexican child in Texas. For a general reference we'll say that's 1 death per 141 cases. Now it will probably be much lower than that as more people become infected and don't, in fact, die. But with what we have we'll say 1 in 141. K?

As of today WHO, or the World Health Organization reports 156 confirmed cases and 9 deaths in Mexico. Making the mortality rate about 1 in 17, We have to keep in mind that many of these people were likely infected and ill before their doctors knew what they were sickened with, that in Mexico it's not uncommon for people to live in very close quarters with many family members, and that many of these cases were in poor areas where people likely had little means to seek medical attention.

Now, the regular run of the mill Influenza that many of us have had at least once in our lives kills about 1 in 125 people who are infected every year. Didn't know that did ya? Scary isn't it?

So really, the death rate from H1N1 in THIS country is already quite a bit below the annual death rate from influenza. And it's likely that gap will grow as this thing plays out.

The difference is that Influenza A and B, or "the flu" generally causes the most morbidity and mortality in people who are very young, very old, or who have compromised immune systems due to things like Chemotherapy and HIV. H1N1 seems to have a liking for making young healthy people very very sick, but why?

The shit storm.

That's what I like to call it anyway, because I'm all about creating my own terms for things to make them seem more interesting.

The immune system works by identifying an organism or virus and creating an immune response. That immune response involves releasing histamine, which, contrary to popular knowledge, is actually what causes your runny nose, sneezing, and other icky symptoms. Histamine is a great defense, but it makes us feel pretty crappy.

Generally we are exposed on some level, whether it be by vaccination or casual contact, to many of the germs we will encounter our entire lives when we are very young. We gain SOME immunity from this so that the next time we are exposed our immune systems may remember the germ and act quickly and efficiently to destroy it, or even if we aren't immune will remember bits and peices of it and work to kill it off.

What happens when we are suddenly exposed to germs our bodies have never encountered before is the shit storm. It is essentially an over-action of the immune system. Our immune system sees the new germ, realizes it has NO idea what this is, and freaks out unloading massive amounts of histamine into our bodies to destroy it. Histamine creates fluid which can fill our lungs, causing pneumonia and viola...... you are in ICU with a breathing tube and a priest.

So that's the problem with the Swine flu. We haven't encountered it before. Will everyone's immune system overreact like this? Nope. And no one can predict (as far as I know) if yours will or not. But this doesn't seem to be the norm.

Even still, I personally think the world is overreacting.

Common sense goes a long way. Good hygeine, hand washing, use of sanitizer. Stay away from people who are sick and stay home if you have symptoms. If you feel you may have the swine flu you can visit your local urgent care and possibly receive antivirals to make your illness shorter in duration (if you meet certain criteria I'd imagine)

And for cripes sake people. You aren't going to get it by eating well cooked pork. And if you are eating undercooked pork I'd be more worried about a tapeworm than the flu anyway. Have you seen a tapeworm? *shudder*

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