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Spanish Flu Pandemic - SWINE FLU (Influenza A H1N1) OUTBREAK of 2009

SWINE FLU (Influenza A H1N1) OUTBREAK of 2009 (Illustration) American History Famous Historical Events Geography Medicine Social Studies Tragedies and Triumphs World War I Disasters

Swine Flu (now known as Influenza A / H1N1) spread in epidemic-like proportions in 2009.  This illustration shows what happens once the virus enters a person's body. Image online via Medical Powerpoint Slides.

 

On the 12th of April, 2009, a Mexican woman died of severe viral pneumonia in the state of San Luis Potosi.  An epidemiologist, in this area of central Mexico, wondered what had caused the thirty-nine-year-old's illness. 

After submitting tissue samples, he soon learned concerning news.  The woman had a previously undetected strain of swine influenza, now known as Influenza A / H1N1. (The link explains the meaning of "H" and "N.") 

By the third week in April, more than 854 people in Mexico City had similar symptoms - 59 (and counting) had died.  In San Luis Potosi, where the original case was reported, 23 more people were ill - two more had died.  In Mexicali, near the U.S. border, four people were ill - none had died. 

Dr. Jose A. Cordova Villalobos, Mexico's Secretary of Health, reported a total of 1,614 cases by the 26th of April - with 103 deaths and 400 hospitalizations.  

Seemingly unrelated, at least initially, two children in California were also ill with flu-like symptoms.  Then people in Kansas (where the 1918 Spanish flu pandemic reportedly originated), Texas, Ohio and New York City got sick.  Of those twenty known cases, all had Swine Influenza A/H1N1 (as reported by the Centers for Disease Control).  Two people were hospitalized; none died.

Most of the impacted individuals (this is a live map, of reported cases, from Google Earth) were young adults (between the ages of 25-45), and in previously good health.  That fact caused World-Health-Organization officials to become very concerned:

Because there are human cases associated with an animal influenza virus [H1N1 combines genes from swine, bird and human influenza viruses], and because of the geographical spread of multiple community outbreaks, plus the somewhat unusual age groups affected, these events are of high concern.  (World Health Organization Report, 24 April 2009.)

In discussing the early cases in California, the Centers for Disease Control also noted:

...concern exists that this new strain of swine influenza A (H1N1) is substantially different from human influenza A (H1N1) viruses, that a large proportion of the population might be susceptible to infection, and that the seasonal influenza vaccine H1N1 strain might not provide protection. The lack of known exposure to pigs in the two cases increases the possibility that human-to-human transmission of this new influenza virus has occurred.

The worry, of health officials, was that the new strain of Swine Influenza A (H1N1) had the potential to become pandemic.  Given what happened with the Spanish Flu disaster of 1918-19 (caused, lead researchers originally believed, by a swine-flu virus), national and worldwide health authorities  analyzed the H1N1 virus and carefully monitored its progress. 

One can only hope that today's technologies, unavailable to scientists ninety years ago (when roughly one-third of the world's population "got the flu"), will help to unlock the mysteries of new flu strains (and reveal the best possible defenses to combat them). 

 

NOTE:

Numerous pictures linked in this story are maintained at the U.S. National Museum of Health and Medicine - Otis Historical Archives.

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Author: Carole D. Bos, J.D. 5156stories and lessons created

Original Release: Mar 01, 2006

Updated Last Revision: Nov 07, 2017


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