Friday, May 22, 2009

"Delay coming home if you feel unwell"

A little "bug" million times smaller than a pin prick has created havoc in the world today. As of yesterday 21 May, 41 countries have officially reported 11,034 infected cases with 85 deaths. US has reported 5,710 confirmed and probable cases in 48 states with 8 deaths, and UK with 109 cases and no deaths. The Influenza A (H1N1) virus officially arrived in my country, Malaysia, on board MAS Flight MH 091 from Newark, New Jersey on 13th May. A Malaysian student returning home for his summer break was infected and the second confirmed case was his friend on board the same flight. Today, our Health Minister advised Malaysian students in US to stay back for a while if they experience any flu symptoms. Pretty sound advice to keep the virus away but pretty unfair to the students.
When I was studying abroad, I missed home so much - my family, my dog, the food and just the feeling of security. I only came home once in the 7 years I was away due to financial reasons but home was always on my mind. My parents must have missed me more cos' before I left my mum said, "We will always have the altar lighted until you come home." The "light" was a glass bowl with oil and a lighted wick. The wick was kept lighted 24 hours a day for all those 7 years. How do I know? Becos' my brothers wrote to me frequently, "Hurry up, we are very tired of keeping the wick lighted." I don't think my parents did that to ensure I would top the class (cos I didn't) or become a Nobel Prize Laureate (not in this life time). They just kept the flame to pray for me to be safe. Isn't that what we want most for our children?

What is this "bug" that will delay our kids from coming home. The Influenza A (H1N1) virus belongs to a group called the orthomyxoviruses. "Myxo" refers to viruses that infect the mucus membranes. The orthomyxoviruses comprise of 3 types - Influenza A, B and C. While Influenza B and C viruses mainly infect man, Influenza A can infect both man and animals. This allows Influenza A viruses to cause pandemics - a situation where a disease crosses national bounderies - like what is happening now.

The viruses are spherical and covered by an envelope from where spikes or surface proteins -haemagglutinins (H) and neuraminidase (N) - project out. Influenza viruses are able to change their antigens and result in different serotypes - H1N1 caused the Spanish Influenza (1918), H2N2 the Asian Influenza (1957) and H3N2 the Hong Kong Influenza (1968).

  • Pictures taken from the Internet

    Spread? Influenza A (H1N1) is not transmitted via food. Virus is spread through aerosols from sneezing and coughing or by contact with the virus and then touching the nose or mouth.
    Prevention? By avoiding crowded places and good hygiene practice. The virus is rapidly "killed" by detergents and soaps, thus frequent hand washing will control the spread.
    Vaccine? At the moment there is NO vaccine for the nfluenza A (H1N1) virus. The only vaccines available offer no protection against the current "bug" as they will only protect against the human seasonal influenza viruses.
    Research at the CDC (Center for Disease Control and Prevention, US) report that the current Influenza A (H1N1) virus is a genetic recombination of 4 different influenza viruses:
  • Human influenza gene segments
  • Swine influenza from North America
  • Swine influenza from Euroasia
  • Avian gene segments from North America

A new strain with no immunity in humans, this is why the fatality rate is much higher compared with other flu outbreaks. The good news is that the current fatality rate of less than 1% shows that the virus is not as powerful as intiallly predicted. There are 5,400 Malaysians studying in the US, I hope they will come home safely.

1 comment:

  1. Sorry to hear about this flue reaching you as well :-)