China is gearing up for its first public health crisis of 2016, and it’s neither bird, pig nor human; more a combination of the three.
Large numbers of people in Jiangsu are coming down with the H1N1 virus, originally referred to as Swine Flu. Jiangsu Provincial Centre for Disease Control and Prevention is monitoring health centres across the province, and has reported that between 14 and 20 February, the province had over 6,000 cases of H1N1. This is the peak in a trend that began last October, when cases started to multiply.
H1N1 is seasonal flu, transmitted only among humans. Its original moniker was derived from it being first detected in pigs at the start of a world-wide pandemic in 2009, while now it is a human seasonal flu virus that also happens to circulate in pigs. It is important to note that getting a flu vaccine is the best protection while H1N1 cannot be contracted from properly handled and cooked pork or pork products. That said, H1N1 flu can lead to pneumonia, lung infections, plus other breathing problems, while it can also worsen illnesses such as diabetes or asthma.
H1N1 is fundamentally different from H7N9 and H5N6, also known as bird flu. While the former is by far the most prevalent at present, it is wise to not be complacent. There have been five reported cases of H7N9 infections in Jiangsu this January, of which one has led to death. Compare this with only seventeen cases for the whole of last year (half died) and witness a renewed public concern for human infection with the avian influenza that first swept the country in 2013. Rumours circulating that a doctor died in the past few days from H7N9 in the Jiangsu Provincial People’s Hospital on Nanjing’s Guangzhou Lu have been proved untrue.
While experts are warning people to keep away from live poultry and crowds, the Nanjing Disease Control Centre has stated there is no need for panic; H7N9 this time around is very different from that in 2013; then the death rate was very high but now patients can recover after treatment.
As the old adage goes, prevention is better than cure. Following a few common sense preventative measures is the best way to avoid infection:
- Wash hands throughout the day with soap and water. Sing "Happy Birthday" twice to make sure you have washed long enough. Alternatively, use an alcohol-based hand sanitiser.
- Avoiding touching the eyes, nose or mouth
- Avoid people who are sick
- The H7N9 virus is afraid of heat. Make sure chicken and eggs are fully cooked