For Immediate Release
KDHE Office of Communications
One year ago this week the world suddenly woke up to a new threat. A novel flu virus had arrived on the scene.
It was a virus the world had never seen before, one that would later be called H1N1.
At first there were more questions than answers: How serious was the disease this new virus was causing? How fast would it spread between people? Was it treatable with drugs? Could a vaccine be developed to stop it?
The earliest reports said the virus was responsible for widespread disease in Mexico. Laboratory-confirmed cases had also turned up in California and Texas.
And then, just a day after we first heard about the virus, the first American cases away from the border were found right here in Kansas.
A Dickinson County man who had visited Mexico on a business trip returned home ill and infected his wife, before both went to see their astute family physician. Analysis of the specimens the physician collected, performed that evening by the state public health laboratory, pointed to the mysterious new virus.
Within hours, under the dark of night, the specimens were sent aboard the governor’s airplane to the laboratories of the federal Centers for Disease Control and Prevention in Atlanta for confirmatory tests.
Sure enough, both cases were positive. Now Kansas found itself on the front lines of a potentially dangerous epidemic.
Within days, other cases appeared around the country. In some places, schools suspended their classes, giving thousands of students an unplanned vacation. In other communities, emergency departments were flooded with fearful patients. Several countries closed their borders to people arriving from America. Face masks flew off of pharmacy shelves.
And across the country, millions of people started to take hand washing and “cough etiquette” seriously for the first time in their lives.
At first, actual cases of the new flu were rare. But talk about the emerging pandemic was everywhere, from cable newsrooms, to the halls of Congress, to kitchen tables in every community.
A year later, most of the talk about H1N1 flu has disappeared.
Although the virus remains present in every state, and is likely to kill thousands of Americans in the coming flu season, most Americans no longer give serious thought to H1N1 influenza. For many, the so-called “swine flu” episode of 2009 was just another over-hyped, sky-is-falling case of media-fed scare-mongering in the tradition of Y2K and killer bees.
That’s unfortunate, because now is a good time to take stock of what we have learned about H1N1 flu in the past year, and start to prepare for the unpredictable – but inevitable – next chapter in humanity’s ongoing coexistence with this new virus.
Here are some key points to consider:
No one is talking about it anymore, but the H1N1 flu pandemic isn’t over. Flu activity is thankfully very low at the moment, but nearly every day new cases are still being identified in Kansas.
It’s a safe bet that case numbers will rebound sooner or later. Will you be ready?
Dr. Eberhart-Phillips is the Kansas State Health Officer and Director of Health in the Kansas Department of Health and Environment. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org. Previous columns are now available online at Dr. Jason’s Blog, www.kdheks.gov/blogs/dr_jasons_blogs.htm.