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H1N1 Respects No Borders

New America Media, News Report/Video, Khalil Abdullah Posted: Nov 06, 2009

Is it the Mexican flu yet? The question about the geographic source of the H1N1 influenza virus, or swine flu, was an inquiry fielded by representatives of the Center for Disease Control and Prevention in a briefing with Washington, D.C.s ethnic media.

The tone and context of the question conveyed an underlying anxiety among some immigrant groups that they will, in some way, be held responsible for transmitting H1N1 due to their own or relatives recent travels.

For the present, however, the disease doesnt know any nationality; doesnt know any ethnic group; doesnt know any sex, said Alan Janssen, health communications specialist for the CDCs National Center for Immunization and Respiratory Diseases. So, while the short answer to the question is no, it is not the Mexican flu, ethnic communities indeed face several barriers as they seek to contain the spread of H1N1, a virulent flu strain that has accounted for at least 1,000 deaths in the United States since it was first identified in April of this year.

Dr. Izune Kim Hwang, chief preparedness officer, Influenza Division, CDC, sought to assure the media that efforts to produce enough H1N1 vaccine were soon to be on target. Were anticipating a good supply, Hwang said, adding that approximately 30 million doses are expected to be received from the pharmaceutical manufacturers contracted to produce the vaccine. Those doses will then be distributed to the states and to hospitals which Hwang said have been concerned about the limited availability of vaccines.

Hwang said the CDC receives regular updates on H1N1 data and that 46 states in America are reporting that the disease is widespread throughout their jurisdictions. He also cautioned that the current spike in H1N1 prevalence may continue during the regular flu season which is just beginning.

The CDC officials, who were joined by Dr. Tyra Bryant-Stephens, medical director of the Community Asthma Program at The Childrens Hospital of Philadelphia, stressed the need for vaccinations for young children (6 months to age 19), pregnant women, the elderly, and those who have chronic conditions like asthma, diabetes, or sickle cell anemia, for example, that compromise their immune systems.

Paste alt hereFrom left to right: Media representatives from Asian Fortune,
Final Call, Pakistani Post, Muslim Link.


Bryant-Stephens said, Vaccinations are the best way for them to be protected. She also explained that one cannot get the flu from the vaccinations nor can a vaccination cure someone already infected. Additionally, even healthy individuals should get vaccinated to protect co-workers or if they regularly come in contact with immune-compromised family members.

In the Washington, D.C. area, some reporters spoke to their personal experience as parents of otherwise healthy children who have contracted the flu while others expressed their frustration at the lack of the vaccines availability. More importantly was how to emphasize getting vaccinated to immigrants from countries that have not had the tradition or the capacity to administer public immunization programs.

With flu symptoms often mistaken for those of a common cold, there is a danger that infected individuals will delay seeking medical help for a disease that can lead to contracting pneumonia, for example, a severe respiratory illness.

In remarks after the event, sponsored by New America Media on Oct. 29, Janssen said the public underestimates the seriousness of the flu because its often not cited as the immediate cause of death on a coroners report. He said coroners may list five or six secondary causes, partially explaining the underreporting of the flus lethality.

Paste alt hereDr. Tyra Bryant-Stephens and Dr. Inzune Hwang

The traditional flu vaccine is comprised of three flu strains, but H1N1 appeared after vaccine production already had begun. Thus, the CDC officials strongly encouraged getting the specific H1N1 vaccination. They said the CDC is considering combining the H1N1 vaccine into the traditional flu shot for the next flu season.

Hwang said the federal government has borne the cost for the immunization program and even those who cannot pay should be able to get the shots for free. There is no mandatory federal inoculation program; state laws may enable schools to declare mandatory vaccinations. In response to a question about U.S. public health policy and undocumented individuals, the CDC officials said that U.S. citizenship is not a requirement for receiving a vaccination.

One of the difficulties in anticipating the dimensions of a flu outbreak is that the virus mutates. By next year, H1N1 may be supplanted by an entirely different flu strain. Annually, the CDC attributes 36,000 deaths to the flu.

Janssen said that the Spanish influenza of 1918, which is believed to have caused 50 to 100 million deaths worldwide, got its name because, at the time during World War I, Spain was a neutral country. German soldiers and American soldiers were getting sick, too, Janssen said, but those militaries held the information classified. It was the Spanish media that reported honestly, Janssen explained. Thus, Spanish flu became attached to the outbreak though its real geographic origins are still debated.

Weve been planning for a pandemic for four years, Hwang said, but even so, he noted the CDC had to relearn or restructure how to respond. He was hopeful the areas ethnic media would use its credibility within their respective communities to increase awareness about the seriousness of the flu and to alleviate any mistrust associated with CDC vaccination initiatives.

Related Articles:

Pregnant Woman in L.A. Dies of Swine Flu

Six Things You Should Know About H1N1 (Swine) Flu

JAMA Study: H1N1 Hits Hard at All Ages



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