On Thursday, two employees of SAP located at Ecoworld in Bengaluru were reported to have tested positive for swine flu, or H1N1. SAP shut down offices in Bengaluru, Gurugram and Mumbai after this in order to undertake extensive sanitation of office premises. Speculations quickly arose that Bengaluru would go into high alert to tackle a possible spread of swine flu. These fears, however, are unwarranted. Swine flu has now been declared a ‘post-pandemic’ disease – here’s what that means and when you should actually be concerned.
In June 2009, the World Health Organisation (WHO) declared an outbreak of swine flu (or H1N1) as a pandemic, meaning that the disease, which had not been seen before, had spread across several countries and regions. Over 74 such areas had reported positive cases of the flu at the time. The outbreak was identified as a zoonotic disease (one that initially was seen only in animals but has now spread to humans) which emerged from pigs.
When the disease first was identified, little was known about this influenza which was extremely different from the seasonal influenza which was seen each year. There were no vaccines against the swine flu nor was there a cure. Because this was the first time that such an influenza was seen in the human population, there was very little ‘herd’ immunity available and more individuals were susceptible to it.
By 2010, enough people had been exposed to the disease in the population that it was being seen more frequently in communities overall across the world. The WHO at this time deemed that the pandemic was over and that swine flu was a disease in its ‘post-pandemic’ phase.
Swine flu is post-pandemic, should you still get vaccinated?
While the WHO has recognised that H1N1 is now post-pandemic, it states that this merely means that the disease has now been incorporated into the human population. As a result, much like the seasonal flu, there will be seasonal periods where swine flu cases would spike in different parts of the world. Therefore, it is always a good idea to get vaccinated.
The WHO strongly recommends that regardless of a pandemic situation or not, influenza viruses of any kind pose a risk of disease. The organisation emphasises on the use of vaccines to reduce exposure to a disease.
In addition, taking general precautionary measures such as washing your hands with soap and water, practicing good cough and sneezing hygiene techniques will all aid in keeping you well.
So what about epidemics, and outbreaks like coronavirus?
Much like swine flu, the recent coronavirus outbreak too was a zoonotic disease which has jumped to humans. While researchers have yet to ascertain the exact animal source, there have been several speculations ranging from snakes and bats and more.
The disease rapidly spread in China before it spread to other countries, and was quickly dubbed an epidemic by officials around the world.
It all started when a group of individuals from Wuhan city in China’s Hubei province presented with pneumonia-like symptoms in early December. A meat market where live animals were sold was initially thought to be the source of the infection and subsequently shut down. From the epicenter of the epidemic, it spread to several other countries worldwide. As of Sunday, there have been over 78,000 positive cases confirmed around the world and over 2400 deaths due to the disease which has been named coronavirus disease (covid19).
The best measures to take in case of an epidemic are preventive and protective steps to keep yourself safe. Wash your hands frequently and use personal protective equipment (including masks) as recommended.