Will the H1N1 virus—commonly known as swine flu—affect half the U.S. population this autumn and winter? According to the President’s Council of Advisors on Science and Technology, it’s a possibility. There are concerns that that as many as 1.8 million people could be hospitalized, and that we could see between 30,000 and 90,000 deaths from an epidemic.
Even though swine flu is not considered that much more dangerous than the regular flu, the fact that it is an unfamiliar strain to which few people are immune is a factor that concerns officials with regard to its potential spread. The Washington Post quotes Health and Human Services Secretary Kathleen Sebelius on the subject:
“This isn’t the flu that we’re used to. The 2009 H1N1 virus will cause a more serious threat this fall. We won’t know until we’re in the middle of the flu season how serious the threat is, but because it’s a new strain, it’s likely to infect more people than usual.”
In order to prepare for the possibility of an outbreak of swine flu, a vaccine has been developed and is being tested. There are hopes that the vaccine will be available en masse come October. In the meantime, limited groups of people have been receiving the swine flu vaccine and trials are being conducted.
Children represent one of the main groups targeted by swine flu vaccine tests. The University of Maryland is looking for child volunteers to participate in clinical trials of the vaccine at five different locations, one of the most prominent at the Pediatrics Center in Fredericksburg, Va. Right now, the focus is on children ages six months to 35 months. Participants are asked to keep journals and make follow-up visits. Gift cards are provided each time a child comes in. The swine flu vaccine does not actually contain any flu virus, and health experts claim the vaccine is no more dangerous than the regular seasonal flu vaccine.
All of this comes as the government considers a national H1N1 vaccine program and seeks public input for the kind of response that the government should have if the swine flu really does become a problem in the coming months. Ten cities played host to paid focus groups whose participants provided input on swine flu and the possibility of a national plan. Separate focus groups consisting of health care providers were also held. The results of the studies should be released in September.