Swine flu and coronavirus: Are these pandemics different?

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FILE – In this Wednesday, Jan. 22, 2020, file photo, a staff member moves bio-waste containers past the entrance of the Wuhan Medical Treatment Center in Wuhan, China, where some people infected with a new virus are being treated. The new virus comes from a large family of coronaviruses, some causing nothing worse than a cold. Others named SARS and MERS have killed hundreds in separate outbreaks. (AP Photo/Dake Kang, File)

SALT LAKE CITY, Utah (ABC4 News) – Many people remember the swine flu pandemic of 2009, and while it has an eerily similar feeling, there are definitely differences in how the world responded to the two viruses.

With the reported number of COVID-19 still relatively low in the U.S., many people are not sure how to feel, let alone prepare, so ABC4 dug into the swine flu pandemic to help answer questions regarding the global responses to both and if the precautions being taken now are necessary.

In other words, what did we learn from the swine flu pandemic that we can use now?

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

President Obama declared a public health emergency at the end of April 2009 after 20 confirmed cases were reported in the U.S. The virus peaked in mid-summer and by June 11, 70 countries were reporting cases.

By mid-October 2009, Obama had declared a national emergency and the CDC estimated between 14 million and 34 million cases of H1N1, resulting in 2,500 and 6,000 H1N1-related deaths just in the U.S.

The only travel advisories at that time were warnings against going into Mexico but travel restrictions were not put in place.

When the pandemic was over, H1N1’s fatality rate in the U.S. was approximately 0.02 percent compared to the coronavirus anticipated one to four percent. Additionally, health officials have determined coronavirus spreads at a faster rate than the swine flu did.

The (H1N1)pdm09 pandemic lasted one year and the CDC estimated approximately 60.8 million cases, 274,304 hospitalizations, and 12,469 deaths in the United States, killing 0.001 percent to 0.007 percent of the world’s population within 12 months.

The first known cases of COVID-19 were reported in December 2019 in Wuhan, China and to date, it is reported more than 7,000 people have died around the globe as a result of coronavirus.

In comparison, Trump declared a national emergency in just under two months after the first COVID-19 case was reported in the United States in Washington State on Jan 21, 2020. As of Monday, March 16, the number of known coronavirus cases in the country was just under 4,000 people in 49 states, and at least 68 COVID-19 patients have died.

In an effort to curb global infection, the entire country has reacted a lot faster than what happened in 2009. Professional sports 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.

A major issue, however, still remains.

Many people here in the U.S. have expressed their frustrations with not being able to get testing. It is estimated the U.S. testing abilities are capped at about 22,000 tests a day but the administration has promised to have more than 5 million tests available by the first week of April.

The World Health Organization held a meeting on Monday to express their frustrations with the lack of urgency in testing as well.

The agency’s Director-General Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus said the fast-growing response to social media distancing and closing schools and canceling events is a good start, there isn’t enough being done on a global level regarding 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,” said Ghebreyesus. “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.”

WHO representatives said they have shipped 1.5 million tests to 120 countries but the U.S., who is wanting to produce their own tests, is still far behind other countries such as Italy, China, and Japan when comparing the number of tests with their respective population.

“You cannot fight a fire blindfolded, said Ghebreyesus. “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.”

It would appear in the end, what appears to feel like a massive overreaction could in the long run help save thousands of lives. As more testing becomes available and the numbers continue to climb, taking extra steps to protect yourself and others will always be the best prevention for spreading any viruses.

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