KCTV-5 Kansas City news investigative report on H1N1

I couldn’t believe this was actually released to the public from the media!

Got to this link to watch the report


FAIRWAY, Kan. — Phrases like “pandemic” or “H1N1” might not have been part of every American’s vocabulary a short time ago, but now they are part of our everyday lives.


Just Wednesday, the Kansas Department of Health and Enviroment announced it will no longer test everyone who presents sysmptoms for the H1N1 virus beause there are simply too many suspected cases.


It’s the same story across the country, as heath agencies and organizations gear up for the next several months.


Public health officials have been preparing for the likelihood of a pandemic influenza outbreak for decades – a strain the likes of which had never been seen before.


But no one could have predicted that this potentially deadly virus would become the fastest moving pandemic in history.


The outbreak has spread fast. The media frenzy even faster. An L.A. Times headline trumpeted “Swine flu could kill hundreds of thousands in U.S. if vaccine fails, CDC says.”


Late last month, a grim government report estimated that the virus could kill as many as 90,000 people in the U.S. alone and infect up to 50 percent of the population.


“So genetically, this virus is different than any other virus that we’ve seen in the past,” said Eddie Hedrick, an epidemiologist and the emerging infections coordinator for the Missouri Department of Health and Human Services.


Hedrick is responsible for tracking and planning responses to new diseases and viruses in Missouri.


“In the history of medicine as we know it, there have only been six that have infected human being,” he said. “And about three times a century, these viruses change enough that they cause a worldwide epidemic.”


He said it’s important to understand that what makes H1N1 unique is that humans have no natural immunity to it — which means everyone is at risk.


Public health agencies have been instructed to back off testing for the H1N1 virus. Both the CDC and the World Health Organization are no longer tracking confirmed individual infections or deaths caused by this new strain, because if you get the flu in the U.S. today, health officials said there is a 99 percent chance it’s the H1N1 strain.


Despite the odds, Hedrick said mass panic is unfounded. Researchers have said that this virus is much less severe than the one that caused the 1918 outbreak that killed 500,000 people in the United States and 50 million worldwide.


“The good news is, the severity of this particular virus is pretty mild,” Hedrick said. “It’s causing illness – most people get over it in three to five days and they do just fine.”


And while the H1N1 virus has contributed to more than 500 deaths, those have mostly been people with other underlying health conditions.


“I think it’s important for people to realize that even seasonal influenza kills about 36,000 people a year, and it hospitalizes 200,000 people,” Hedrick said.


Researchers have said that the H1N1 virus is milder than the seasonal flu, but it is more contagious. For that reason, the CDC is advocating mass vaccination beginning in the next few months.


“So, you want to treat healthy people and be sure they’re immunized against the virus so we can create a level of immunity in the population so that they don’t expose people who are at high risk for complications,” said Artelia Gilliard, a spokeswoman for the CDC.


Critics said one of the problems is that the vaccine itself will be in use before clinical safety trials have even been completed.


“Before it reaches the millions of people — the 40 to 50 million people that it’s supposed to be reaching by the end of October — we won’t even have the data on the first two of the five trials that the vaccine has to undergo before its deemed safe,” said Dr. Erica Schwartz, a New York-based physician and patient advocate.


Schwartz calls the push to vaccinate before the research is competed alarming.


“To think that the first line of defense against any disease at this point is a vaccine — especially a mild disease like the swine flu — is pretty dangerous,” Schwartz said.


But currently, there is only one form of immunity that is guaranteed — legal Immunity.


In June, Secretary of Health and Human Services Kathleen Sebelius signed a document making federal officials and the five vaccine manufacturers immune from any legal liability if there are adverse reactions to the H1N1 vaccine.


In other words, if the vaccine is found to cause damage or even death — without proving intent –neither the government nor the vaccine makers can be held liable.


The last time the government produced a vaccine in a hurry due to a pandemic, it met with deadly consequence. In 1976, a swine flu scare at Fort Dix, N.J., triggered a hasty mass-inoculation campaign in which 40 million Americans were vaccinated.


Ten weeks later the government abruptly ended the program after 25 people died from the vaccine itself and hundreds developed a paralyzing neurological disease known as Guillain Barre Syndrome.


“The side effects of the vaccine were more dangerous than the disease itself,” Schwartz said. “I think we’re faced with the same thing today.”


In the end, it turns out the feared pandemic of ’76 never hit. Out of a projected 50 to 60 million people who were expected to contract the swine flu, only about 200 actually got sick.


That episode cost the director of the CDC his job and the federal government paid out millions in damages.


“We at the CDC always have the 1976 vaccination program in the back of our mind when we recommend who should receive the vaccine and how we approve vaccines or how we create vaccines,” Gilliard said.


Health officials insist that given new technologies, the scenario that occurred in 1976 will not be repeated in 2009.


“We don’t anticipate any problem with it,” Hedrick said. “But because the vaccine is new — even though we don’t anticipate it — we have set up very specific monitoring systems for watching out for any potential side effects from this vaccine.”


Clinical trials to determine the correct dosages of the H1N1 vaccine are currently under way in cities across the country, including Kansas City.


One hundred and twenty volunteers, including children, are being tested with the vaccine. The dosage results are expected within the next month.


As for the final safety data of the vaccine — those results aren’t expected until June of next year.

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