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Pandemic Outbreak

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Topics: Influenza, Pandemic
Is the United States prepared to handle a major epidemic/pandemic outbreak?

My husband and I were watching a movie on HBO called Contagion and we started to debate on whether this incident could happen and how bad would the outcome be. I started to look into major epidemic/pandemics in US history and found a few (The Great Influenza of 1919, Smallpox against Native Americans, Polio in 1916, and the most recent Swine Flu outbreak of 2009). The question is what have we learned from these outbreaks and can we handle them if one breaks out today. One way of determining this is by comparing our responses to the Great Influenza Outbreak of 1919 to our response to the more recent Swine Flu of 2009. This paper will compare the two responses and show what have we learned and to determine how we would probably response to the next outbreak. According to United States Department of Health and Human Services website, the Great Influenza outbreak came to light in Haskell County Kansas when public officials reported 18 severe cases of influenza. Influenza was not something that was reported to the Government, so it is hard to pin point the exact spot. But in August of 1918 in Boston, large numbers of dockworkers from the Commonwealth Pier reported suffering from high fevers, sore muscles and joint pains. Out of these workers, about “5-10% developed severe and massive pneumonia. Death often followed. (6)” Within a couple of days, the illness began to spread into the city of Boston itself. A month later, California, North Dakota, Florida and Texas were all reporting epidemics of influenza. So what was the response? With most of the local hospitals and healthcare faculties begin overwhelmed and those brave enough to help treat the infected contracting the illness, public officials went into knee jerk reaction modes and began causing public concerns. They demanded the public to wear mask to help prevent the spread of the illness (not knowing it was a virus and the masks were ineffective.) States passed spitting laws that forbid spitting and churches, schools, and saloons were closed in fear of spreading the disease. Posters were made and placed all over discussing how to limit the spread of the diseases. In October of 1918, the cases began to drop dramatically and Nov very few cases were being reported. The reason for the slowing down and “stopping” of the illness is debated and many theories have been published. No one is really sure of the exact reason. In the end, an estimated 675,000 Americans were killed by the illness. Now fast forward almost a hundred years at look at the 2009 Swine Flu epidemic, one can almost guarantee the medical and public knowledge and response would be more effective and advance. However, this wasn’t exactly the case. The Swine flu epidemic began in Mexico. Though the exact origin is greatly debated, everyone can agree that it was a mutated influenza virus. The first reported cases in the US were in the spring of 2009. But just like in the 1919 Influenza outbreak, the number of cases began to skyrocket and public concern began to heighten. Hospitals and healthcare facilities became overwhelmed, however, unlike in the 1919 outbreak it was only in certain areas (the southwestern states). As the reports began to come out all over the news, the general public demanded action and public officials delivered. Everyone carried Lysol wipes and hand sanitizer. Mask were being wore on planes (to the point it looked and felt like a MASH episode by the way everyone looked). Public gathering places began to see sharp declines in attendance (ie Disneyland). The mirroring of the 1919 case was uncanny, however, the major change is the advances in technology and biological (most importantly the field of communicable diseases). Scientists were able to develop and mass-produce a vaccine that showed to help prevent the spread of the disease (another highly debated topic). So by looking at these two responses, we can begin to see a pattern on how the American public reacts to an epidemic. We know that an outbreak will happen and people will begin to sick. Numbers will start getting reported and new agencies will begin to fuel the fire for public panic. Then more and more people will report cases and the hospitals will begin to become overwhelmed. Public outrange will boil over and demand a response. Public officials will response by offering generic ways to reduce the spread of diseases. During this time, scientist will frantically try to develop a vaccine for the illness. All while the virus continues to mutate and evolve to the point of ineffectiveness. Though this is a crude and simplistic way at looking and describing two major epidemic outbreaks, it does show very clear similarities. The end result is that an epidemic will come and that we are prepared to deal with the outbreak in the same way we are prepared to deal with any major storm that rolls through the coasts. We have a generic outline and base plan that can give the American public no reason to lose sleep at night, but nothing fainéant that would allow those who must deal with it enough comfort to stop trying to figure out ways to prepare for it. We see it coming and can give an immediate warning, but know that disaster is going to strike and are only true defense is time.

References

1. International Committee on Taxonomy of Viruses. "The Universal Virus Database, version 4: Influenza A". Archived from the original on 19 May 2011. Retrieved 14 April 2011. 2. Clinical features of severe cases of pandemic influenza". Geneva, Switzerland: World Health Organization (WHO). 16 October 2009. Archived from the original on 25 October 2009. Retrieved 25 October 2009. 3. Sophie Borland (13 August 2010). "Swine flu advisers ' ties to drug firms: Five WHO experts linked with vaccine producers". Daily Mail. Retrieved 10 September 2011. 4. McNeil Jr., Donald G. (26 April 2009). "Flu Outbreak Raises a Set of Questions". The New York Times. Retrieved 17 September 2009.
5. http://www.cdc.gov/h1n1flu/qa.htm
6.http://www.flu.gov/pandemic/history/1918/the_pandemic/legacypendemic/index.html

References: 1. International Committee on Taxonomy of Viruses. "The Universal Virus Database, version 4: Influenza A". Archived from the original on 19 May 2011. Retrieved 14 April 2011. 2. Clinical features of severe cases of pandemic influenza". Geneva, Switzerland: World Health Organization (WHO). 16 October 2009. Archived from the original on 25 October 2009. Retrieved 25 October 2009. 3. Sophie Borland (13 August 2010). "Swine flu advisers ' ties to drug firms: Five WHO experts linked with vaccine producers". Daily Mail. Retrieved 10 September 2011. 4. McNeil Jr., Donald G. (26 April 2009). "Flu Outbreak Raises a Set of Questions". The New York Times. Retrieved 17 September 2009. 5. http://www.cdc.gov/h1n1flu/qa.htm 6.http://www.flu.gov/pandemic/history/1918/the_pandemic/legacypendemic/index.html

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