With concern over the spread of the H1N1
flu, questions are being raised about its possible implications. For example,
are people infected with HIV, the AIDS virus, or TB more susceptible to the flu
Thomas Quinn, head of the Johns Hopkins Global Health Center, considers the
potential threat from the flu outbreak.
think you use the right word: potential. We really don't know whether this will
expand into a global pandemic. And WHO (World Health Organization) is preparing
for that eventuality because you would not want to be unprepared should it
occur. We really will have to monitor this on a day by day, hour by hour basis
to see if it's going to expand rapidly to all countries of the world," he says.
he says H1N1 is "limited to a small number of countries. The actual number of
cases is very small relative to what we ordinarily see with seasonal flu."
flu is most prominent in the winter months, tailing off by April. However, H1N1
is a new virus for humans. It's unknown whether previous flu seasons provide
any immunological protection against the new strain, but the typical flu
vaccinations offered each year are not expected to offer any.
of that uncertainty, we really have to gear up as if this could be a major,
serious disease," he says.
Asked how many people on average die during an
outbreak of seasonal flu, Quinn says, "In the United States, we usually see up
to 30,000…deaths from a bad flu year. The people that are most susceptible to
seasonal flu are the very young and the very elderly. Where new viruses come in
is where we get concerned that it might hit the other age groups of the
says that most of the cases of H1N1 have also been of the young and old "and
it's those who had delayed, especially in Mexico, access to care till they were
Johns Hopkins official says many in developing countries have poor access to
health care. But so far, the developing world has been apparently been spared
of any large number of cases. However, this could also be a result of the
quality of surveillance systems, so time will tell.
African nations have high numbers of cases of HIV/AIDS, TB malaria and cancer,
which weaken the immune system. Steroid drugs, given to treat some illnesses,
can also weaken the immune system.
says, "The individuals who have HIV that are in more advanced stages of the
disease are more susceptible. They are immune compromised and if unvaccinated
are susceptible to any of the common Influenza A viruses. Obviously a lot of
people in Africa are not vaccinated. The current vaccine we've been using in
the US -- we do not believe that it is cross-protective against this new strain
of the virus, anyway."
officials say everyone is believed susceptible to H1N1, and if infected, most
could recover within a week.
people with tuberculosis, especially XDR-TB (Extremely Drug Resistant TB),
those people with HIV and…malaria...if they get flu…they will have more severe
complications. And it could result in much more fatalities than we would
normally have expected," he says.
Should H1N1 strike many developing
countries, the same guidelines apply as they do in developed nations. Dr. Quinn
says, "If you cough cover your mouth. If you sneeze cover your mouth. Wash your
hands as often as you possibly can. Avoid close, intimate contact with people
who are already sick from a respiratory infection. They may not know whether
it's flu or not. They should make the assumption this could be flu and they
should avoid direct contact, other than the healthcare providers, who should be
wearing masks and gloves when they care for those people."