In less than two weeks a new epidemic has shaken the international communitys sense of health security. The emerging pandemic, swine fever, appears to have its origin in Mexico. On the pandemic scale of 1 to 6, six being the highest, swine fever hit 4 this week. On the collective populaces anxiety scale of 1 to 10, media reports seem to have pushed anxiety levels to about 8. Anxiety and stress, inseparable twins, need to be managed in these times. The best way is to have clear information and to take practical steps to reduce anxiety and stress.
The number of current cases of swine fever is relatively small but then if you or someone in your family is affected the statistics become irrelevant. You might recall the 2003 pandemic called Severe Acute Respiratory Syndrome (SARS). A viral respiratory illness, SARS gave the world an opportunity to develop procedures to deal with a pandemic. The World Health Organization reported 8096 cases with a total of 774 deaths, a fatality ratio of 9.6%. In the US, there were eight reported cases of SARS and no deaths although they were 43 deaths in Canada.
So what are the information sources that we should rely on to feel comfortable about our safety and about the manner in which this pandemic is being managed? The first reality is that there appear to be very large stocks of vaccinations which are able to reduce the severity of the symptoms. Two of these vaccines are Tamiflu and Relenza, both reputed to be effective in managing this version of the H1N1 strain of influenza type A, swine fever. In Alaska, a state with a population of some 680,000 people, we are told that stores of Tamiflu number 170,000, more than enough to deal with any possible incidents. This piece of information should give comfort and should reduce stress and anxiety for those who worry about this illness.
The second issue is to consider how you might personally manage the influenza. If someone has contracted swine fever, doctors are able to place people in respiratory isolation units until test results identify the strain and vaccinations take effect. Because the medical community is well aware of this pandemic, one assumes that appropriate measures are in place. Medical staff are advised to wear a P2 mask, gloves, some form of eye protection, and to wash their hands frequently.
For our personal assurance, masks are not terribly effective but what we are advised to do is to wash our hands frequently, and keep our hands away from our eyes, nose and mouth. Obviously, it would not be a good idea to holiday in Mexico at this time. And if you had thoughts of visiting a pig farm, I think this is an experience you might forego for the next few months.
Like all forms of stress and anxiety, you CAN manage your fears and emotional turmoil. I always advise people to collect information so that they understand the nature of the threat and so they can estimate potential danger to them personally. Of course, probability estimates are not much use if you are exposed to the influenza strain personally and directly. However, knowing that vaccines are available, that medical staff are prepared, and that you can do sensible things like ensuring good hand hygiene will help you reduce stress and anxiety. Good luck and I hope that you are safe from this new health threat and that the international medical community is able to reduce both its virulence and presence.