It is extremely difficult to address a topic that, when looking up “AH1N1” in a search engine, 45,000,000 results come up. Therefore this article will refer to scientifically proven facts, as well as official data, with the purpose of helping you understand in greater detail what is going on in the world in regards to this disease.
1. Is it really a pandemic? According to the World Health Organization (WHO), it is. This is because it meets specific parameters especially in regards to its dissemination and the possible risk of increasing in morbidity and mortality (the severity criterion is not included within the definition). By March 7th, 2010 the WHO had reported the presence of this condition, through laboratory confirmation, in 213 countries.
2. What is the argument of those who are against this position? There is a movement made up mainly by healthcare workers and led by Carlos Agustín Paéz (a researcher, retired hematologist physician from the San Juan de Dios Hospital and former professor from the University of Costa Rica), who believe that such a pandemic does not exist. And, although they do acknowledge that this type of influenza is very contagious, they have expressed that it is not aggressive, being even less aggressive than the seasonal flu. They have also criticized the big pharmaceutical companies, blaming them for having caused this generalized fear and state of alert throughout the world for the purpose of their own economic well-being.
3. Can I die if I become ill with this virus? Yes. 16,713 human deaths have already been reported around the world and, according to data from the Ministerio de Salud, by March, 2010, 52 deaths have already been reported in Costa Rica.
4. Who does it affect more? Which age group? From what part of the country? Out of the 2,678 confirmed cases in Costa Rica, most have been women under 30 years of age. Heredia has been the most affected province, followed by Puntarenas, San Jose and Alajuela.
5. Which vaccine is currently being administered in Costa Rica? Sanofi Pasteur’s Panenza®.
6. Why has this vaccine been so highly criticized? Due to its components, particularly the mercury-containing preservative, thimerosal (although in the United States thimerosal has been eliminated from vaccines). Those who are against the administration of this vaccine argue that these components may cause serious health complications, such as arthritis, autism in children and central nervous system disorders, all of which has been rejected by the Caja Costarricense del Seguro Social (C.C.S.S.)
7. Has this vaccine already caused any side effects? Yes, but few. These, which have occurred mostly in women, are: headaches, fever, nausea and respiratory distress.
8. Who should get the vaccine? Is it mandatory to do so? Pregnant women in their third trimester, asthmatics with difficult management, patients with two or more chronic diseases (e.g., diabetes, hypertension, etc.), morbidly obese people and healthcare workers who will have greater exposure to these type of patients. In Costa Rica it is mandatory, according to Decree number 35703, which was signed on January 13th, 2010 by President Oscar Arias and the Minister of Health, María Luisa Ávila.
9. Do any government officials hold a different opinion? The current Defensora de los Habitantes (Ombudsman), Ofelia Taitelbaum, argued during an interview held on February 1st, 2010, that “those people who wish to get the vaccine should do so but they (the government) cannot make us get it”.
The debate and opinions over the AH1N1 flu are extremely diverse and controversial and, up to this point, no one has been able to prove which viewpoints are right. This article was not written with the goal of either persuading or discouraging anyone from getting the vaccine. We all have our own thoughts and beliefs, and we have a right to our own opinions. Nonetheless, we should choose whichever option we feel is best for our own, as well as our family’s, health but it is essential to always remember that, when it comes to our health, the best way to do so is by having accurate and complete information on which to base our decisions.
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