Aporkalypse Now?


A(H1N1) influenza – popularised in the media as “swine flu” – reached Vietnam at the end of May.


The initial outbreak took place in Mexico in March and was largely confined to the Americas in its first weeks. That’s no longer. On Jun. 17, the World Health Organization stated that “76 countries have officially reported 39,620 cases of this influenza infection, including 167 deaths.” About two-thirds of the deaths have occurred in Mexico.


At the time of writing, according to International SOS Vietnam, there had been 32 cases confirmed in Vietnam. Of the confirmed Vietnamese cases, the majority had been released from the hospital. Others remained quarantined but in stable condition.


Symptoms of the illness are indistinguishable from ordinary influenza, according to the U.S. Center for Disease Control. For the majority of people, they are mild and do not require specific treatment. Unlike seasonal flus, which usually affect the very young and very old, the majority of severe cases of the H1N1 virus have occurred in people ages 30 to 50. However, most infections have been found in people under 25.


Just the Beginning


On Jun. 11, the World Health Organisation (WHO) officially declared the virus a “pandemic” as a result of its global spread, the first such designation in 41 years. The organisation said the virus is only in its earliest days and its further spread is inevitable.


Dr Patrick Michaudel, the country medical director of International SOS Vietnam, concurs.


“The magnitude of the full impact from H1N1 remains to be seen,” he explains, “but it is projected to be significant over the next 18 months.”


WHO has warned that a second wave of infection could occur this winter in the peak flu season. The last pandemic, the Hong Kong flu of 1968, killed over 700,000 people worldwide. Typical seasonal flu kills 250,000 to 500,000 people annually.


What you Can Do


Like common influenza, swine flu is thought to spread “mainly person-to-person” through the coughing and sneezing of infected people, according to the CDC. Common sense measures such as avoiding close contact with those who are sick, staying home when you are sick to prevent others from catching the illness and washing your hands can help mitigate its spread. Above all, simply keeping your body healthy is the most effective preventive measure, says Dr Nguyen Vinh Tuong, director of Victoria Healthcare International Clinic.


Businesses, as well as individuals, also need to be prepared, says Patrick. “If companies have pandemic plans, they need to ask if the plans have been reviewed and evaluated, if they do not have a plan in place they should immediately consider getting one.”


Not all Gloom and Doom


If it’s possible for a pandemic to have a silver lining, swine flu’s is its low mortality rate. Secondly, vaccinations are coming. However, they won’t be available at least until September and even then will be “limited,” according to WHO.


But Tuong says he is “not very concerned” about the spread of the virus considering its low mortality rate and relative containment in Vietnam. But it’s certainly not the last we’re going to hear of the swine flu – here or around the globe. This unwanted, porcine tourist could stay awhile.