Comparing swine flu and coronavirus

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How are these pandemics different?

A pig in the Swine Barn at the Ohio State Fair during a mild 2012 swine flu outbreak (AP Photo/Columbus Dispatch, Kyle Robertson)

(ABC4 News) — Many remember the swine flu pandemic of 2009. While it has an eerily similar feeling to today’s outbreak, the world responded to the two viruses differently.

With the reported number of COVID-19 still relatively low in the U.S., many are unsure how to prepare. The swine flu pandemic might help answer if the global precautions taken now are necessary. What did we learn from the swine flu pandemic that we can use now?

Swine Flu

The first reported case of (H1N1)pdm09, widely known as swine flu, was an elementary-aged child in California on April 15, 2009. By April 30, the CDC had confirmed 131 cases of swine flu in 18 states.

President Barack Obama declared a public health emergency after 20 cases were confirmed in the U.S. The virus peaked in mid-summer; by June 11, 70 countries reported cases.

Obama declared a national emergency by mid-October. The only travel advisories then were warnings against going into Mexico, but travel restrictions were not put in place.

When the pandemic ended after a year, H1N1’s fatality rate in the U.S. was approximately 0.02%. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention estimated under 61 million cases, around 275,000 hospitalizations, and over 12,000 deaths in the U.S. alone.

COVID-19

The first known cases of COVID-19 were reported in November and December 2019 in Wuhan, China. The World Health Organization reports over 6,500 people have died around the globe as a result of coronavirus so far.

Health officials anticipate the coronavirus fatality rate at somewhere between 1% and 4%. Officials also determined that coronavirus spreads faster than the swine flu.

Trump declared a national emergency just under two months after the first COVID-19 case was reported in Washington state on January 21. The number of confirmed coronavirus cases in the country is just under 4,000 people in 49 states, and at least 68 COVID-19 deaths.

In an effort to curb global infection, the entire country has reacted much faster than in 2009: pro sports leagues around the world have been canceled; public schools, including colleges and universities, are shutting down; large gatherings of more than 10 people are discouraged; artists have virtually suspended tours; businesses and restaurants are closing; and the travel industry is at an impasse.

Testing frustrations

A major issue still remains: many in the U.S. express frustrations at the inability to get tested. So far, the U.S. is only capable of about 22,000 tests a day, but the Trump administration has promised over 5 million tests available the first week of April.

The World Health Organization held a meeting on Monday, echoing frustrations with the lack of urgency in testing.

The agency’s Director-General, Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus, says that while the fast social media response to social distancing, closing schools, and canceling events is a good start, there isn’t enough global progress on testing.

We cannot stop this pandemic if we don’t know who is infected. We have a simple message for all countries: test, test, test. Test every suspected case. If they test positive, isolate them and find out who they have been in close contact with up to two days before they developed symptoms, and test those people too.

World Health Organization Director-General, Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus

WHO representatives said they have shipped 1.5 million tests to 120 countries. The U.S., however, wanting to produce its own tests, remains far behind countries like Italy, China, and Japan by proportion.

You cannot fight a fire blindfolded, and we cannot stop this pandemic if we don’t know who is infected. As I keep saying, all countries must take a comprehensive approach.
But the most effective way to prevent infections and save lives is by breaking the chains of transmission. And to do that, you must test and isolate.

Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus

As testing becomes more available and numbers continue to climb, taking extra steps to protect yourself and others may help save thousands of lives.

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