How H1N1 helps to prevent the spread of other diseases

Saturday, October 31, 2009

This is a similar post to this one I wrote back in May, now that we've had a few months to see what effect H1N1 has had on countries throughout the world. As the charts there show, the first time H1N1 was announced the search engine traffic for the terms handwashing and hand washing skyrocketed, even more than the annual traffic the term receives due to Global Handwashing Day (October 15th).

Since May when the outbreak was first mentioned in the news, Korea (where I live) has changed quite a bit. Until this year bathrooms have been just as often as not without soap, and most people (men at least) didn't bother to wash their hands. Now it's common to find a spray bottle with disinfectant next to the sink, and places like COEX (a big mall in Gangnam with the trade tower and a number of other important buildings) have installed new soap dispensers as well as disinfectant machines at the doors that a lot of people can be seen using as they enter or leave.

Media attention is also very concentrated, with news stories like these every day.

An article here can also be read on the differences in behavior in the United States that have come about since H1N1 appeared.

The reason why this is so beneficial is because of the number of other diseases that can be transmitted in the same way, because a changing of a country's habits towards washing hands and keeping food and water sanitary can go a long way towards fighting these diseases as well. An image here has recently been circulating the internet with the number of deaths so far for H1N1 compared to the yearly deaths for other diseases. H1N1 is a bit below 6000 whereas some others are over a million. Let's take a look at a few of the most common infectious diseases and see if changes in one's habits can help:

AIDS - 2,734,371 deaths. Not spread through simple contact so no help there. AIDS stays the same.

Diarrheal communicable diseases - 1,649,779 deaths. Common ones are cholera, bacillary dysentery and typhoid. These diseases are usually spread through the following: "flying insects feeding on feces may occasionally transfer the bacteria through poor hygiene habits and public sanitation conditions. Public education campaigns encouraging people to wash their hands after defecating and before handling food are an important component in controlling spread of the disease." Lots of help there.

Tuberculosis - 1,381,755 deaths. Spread through the air from coughing and whatnot. H1N1 campaigns at the moment involving school closures, avoiding public spaces etc. right now help against TB as well but the effect won't be permanent.

Child cluster diseases - 989,231 deaths. That includes polio, diphtheria, measles, and tetanus. These diseases
are also spread through food, water, sneezing and coughing and so on.

There are a few diseases after those as well, but this should suffice to show what a benefit the media attention should be bringing. H1N1 seems to be a bit like the disease version of the narco subs used by drug traders to bring cocaine into the US, because it allows authorities to practice and train against a relatively smaller threat (cocaine compared to something more vicious like bombs) which should benefit in the struggle against a much larger one.


Kjetil said...

I agree with you overall, but aren't Tuberculosis, Cholera and similar big deceases less relevant, since they mostly appear in lesser developed countries, rather than the rich countries (which hand dispensers and big actions are taken to prevent h1n1)?

I would think that the action taken to prevent h1n1 will be more helpful on less dangerous (but still costly and sometimes deadly) deceases like normal flu.

That's what I would guess, anyway.

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