With reports of the H1N1 (and now H5N1) flu virus on the rise, William Bowie, a professor in UBC’s Faculty of Medicine who specializes in infectious diseases, says don’t panic, but take all necessary precautions.
The mention of H1N1 strikes fear into people, partly due to its dramatic entry as ‘swine flu’ in 2009. Should we pay special attention to this strain?
We should pay attention to all strains of influenza that affect humans because all can result in severe disease or death. Typically strains other than H1N1 disproportionally affect very young children, the elderly, and those with an immune system that is compromised by underlying diseases or medications. Death rates are particularly high in the elderly. H1N1 is unusual because many of the infections occur in children and younger adults, and illness can rapidly become severe and even fatal.
The overall impact of H1N1 is not markedly different from other strains of influenza, but its impact is more visible. Even now, when it is obvious that some children and young adults are getting severe disease from H1N1, it has not actually been an unusual year in terms of influenza impact.