No doubt you have heard of the swine flu outbreak in Mexico by now. It has the potential to be a worldwide epidemic and to reach South Africa. We should not panic, but nor should we ignore it. Quite possibly, the outbreak will fizzle out without causing many deaths, but there is also the possibility that it might become worse. It is not that unusual for deadly flu epidemics to affect the planet. It has already happened at least three times in the last 100 years. The last major deadly flu epidemic (or pandemic) was in 1968. The disease is probably spread the same way as colds and the standard seasonal flu many of us get every year, i.e. by sneezing, coughing near infected people, touching infected surfaces, close contact etc. In other words it probably spreads very easily.
So far, according to the World Health Organisation (WHO) 30 people have died; all off the deaths have been in Mexico except one which was in USA. There are however confirmed cases of swine flu emerging from a total 22 countries. If we are to judge by the Mexican statistics (and it is far too early to do so), the death rate seems to be far less than 1 in 10 at 0.03. The problem is that flu afflicts so many people every season that even a low death rate can mean a lot of people die. Flu is already a big cause of death in South Africa, particularly in people with AIDS. What is strange about the outbreak in Mexico is that the majority of dead people were healthy adults between the age of 20 and 50. The WHO is not recommending restriction of travel or closure of borders and stresses that you cannot contract the virus from eating well-cooked pork meat and other pork products. Swine Flu is know largely referred to as H1N1 (influenza A) virus as this is the causative agent.
What should we do?