A recent article in the Washington Post detailing criticism of the World Health Organization’s handling of the H1N1 (swine) flu pandemic, suggests that “much ado was made about nothing” and that the WHO was unduly influenced by drug manufacturers who stood to gain from widespread panic over the spread of the novel H1N1 virus. Yet in a separate, sparsely circulated news article released last week, India reported that the number of swine flu cases jumped dramatically in June. During the week of June 8-14, the country recorded 168 H1N1 cases with 14 deaths. In comparison, from June 21-27, there were 345 new cases of H1N1 flu with 17 deaths. Somewhat alarmingly, the virus appeared in parts of India that were minimally affected last year. The news from India came at a time when over 25% of the H1N1 vaccine produced last year for the United States, a staggering 40 million doses worth over $250 million, was destroyed because it had expired. An additional 30 million doses will likely also expire without being used. If added to the 40 million doses slated for destruction this week, it means that almost half of the vaccine produced for the U.S. will have gone to waste. Despite unprecedented publicity by

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the World Health Organization, and an international campaign to encourage immunization against the novel H1N1 virus, a vast number of people remain unimmunized against H1N1. Should we be concerned? If the recent news out of India is any indication, H1N1 has not gone away and may become front page news once again in the coming flu season, typically late November thru March. Scientists cognizant of the Spanish flu timeline from early 1918 until 1920, during which time three separate strains of the influenza virus emerged – with the second being the most deadly – are quick to point out that the novel H1N1 virus from last year could easily mutate and cause widespread devastation in an unimmunized population. Should this occur, the waste of millions of unused vaccine, and the consequential reluctance of manufacturers to mass produce any more doses, could have catastrophic consequences in the months ahead. Travelers should keep in mind that it is flu season in many parts of the world, and that those travelling to the Southern hemisphere in particular should pay close attention to regions reporting increased H1N1 activity. Ask your physician about obtaining the H1N1 vaccine, particularly if you are pregnant or have a chronic illness such as asthma or HIV/AIDs. Criticism of the World Health Organization notwithstanding, it is still premature and historically unjustifiable to write off the novel H1N1 pandemic as a fabrication for the benefit of vaccine manufacturers. Photo by Jeremy Brooks

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About The Author

Frank Gillingham, M.D. serves as Chief Medical Director for HTH Worldwide. Frank has led HTH Worldwide's international business development efforts in Europe and Canada and has been a guest speaker at international business conferences and has authored a series of articles on travel medicine, including pieces on travel information available on the Internet and the role of physicians working with travel insurers. Frank is a Board-Certified Internist and Emergency Medicine Specialist. He is also a private emergency physician in Southern California and a former emergency department director and member of the UCLA emergency department staff. Frank completed residency training at Los Angeles County/USC Medical Center, received his M.D. from Albert Einstein College of Medicine and his B.A. from the University of Pennsylvania .

1 Comment

  1. The most important way to stop flu spreading is to have good respiratory and hand hygiene.

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