Be prepared for the H1N1 (swine flu)

The last time I covered the flu pandemic for The Wooster Voice, I created a small uproar within the campus community. Donít panic! Wash your hands, get your flu shots and donít share drinks. Chances are, even if you do contract swine flu, youíll survive.

But swine flu continues to be an important issue, not only for North America, but also for the global community. Most people in developing countries face a host of issues that are complicated by pandemic swine flu. Lack of basic sanitation combined with pre-existing health concerns make conditions ripe for massive health disaster.

In addition, while the traditional seasonal influenza tends to affect senior citizens, the novel flu virus attacks mostly humans under the age of 25. This creates a second dimension that is proving to be particularly problematic for the developing world; most of these countries have large younger populations vital to the nationís production capacities. Therefore, not only is the developing world more susceptible to diminished living conditions through disease, but the potential for economic malaise increases as the viable workforce is crippled by illness.

To date, there have been over 200,000 lab-confirmed cases of the H1N1 virus in humans worldwide; over 2,100 deaths have occurred due to complications from swine flu since the novel virusís discovery in April of this year. Though incidences of swine flu are diminishing in most countries of the Northern hemisphere, three new countries (Mozambique, Madagascar and Cameroon) reported their first cases of swine flu to the World Health Organization (WHO) as of Aug. 28.

Swine flu is only the latest in a series of global health concerns that have achieved notoriety in past years. It has and will probably continue to affect schools, hopsitals, and communities. We can only hope that this year we will be more adequately prepared to handle it. The first step in achieving a healthier world is adequately addressing this pressing need. According to the World Health Organization, ìThe same virus that causes manageable disruption in affluent countries could have a devastating impact in many parts of the developing world.”

Already-overburdened health care systems with few resources and fewer doctors are suffering from an elongated influenza season. Adding the toll of pandemic flu exponentially increases the need for financial and capital resources to attempt to meet the medical needs.

Moreover, the swine flu pandemic should be an urgent wake-up call to the need for comprehensive health care in both the developed and developing world. Most of the deaths that have occurred because of complications from H1N1 have occurred in conjunction with pre-existing conditions ó heart disease, cancer, respiratory illness, obesity, etc. Crowded cities, staggering pollution and low access to health care have primed developing countries for pre-existing conditions prone to flu complications and death.

The ultimate goal for global health reform should be preventative rather than reactive. Improved sanitation, public education and living conditions will ultimately decrease massive health crises.

So wash your hands. Get your flu shots when theyíre available. Throw away your Solo cups on Friday night instead of ìmaking them last” until Saturday. And petition your elected representatives for policies that address the entirety of the situation. Disease knows no political boundaries ó it is illogical that our nationís policies should attempt to confine it.