Jun 7, 2009

Wisconsin's High H1N1 Cases Result of Top Surveillance

News last week of Wisconsin's first A H1N1 (Swine Flu) death reveals odd figures on the spread of the disease through the population.

Of the 11,054 confirmed cases in the United States (and the District of Columbia and Puerto Rico), 2,071 are reported in Wisconsin, equal to some 18 percent of all confirmed American cases, though Wisconsin has only 1 percent of the American population.

Health authorities point out the influenza surveillance system in Wisconsin that diagnoses such infections is the premier public health program of its kind in the nation, and this may account for the large percentage of reported and confirmed cases in Wisconsin.

One is thankful for all those public research and public health investments our state made over the 20th century spurred on by liberal, secular types at UW-Madison that laid the scientific ground for the political will to establish a sophisticated public health system.

The public health commitment that has our A H1N1 (swine flu) numbers so high was built upon pioneering work in Madison by some extraordinary people like Pete Shult and Jeff Davis.

Said Dr. Christopher Olsen, Associate Dean for Academic Affairs and Professor of Public Health at a lecture in Madison in April:

"Pete (Shult), diagnostic virologist [Director, Wisconsin Communicable Disease Division & Emergency Lab Response] at the state lab of hygiene [Wisconsin State Laboratory of Hygiene(WSLH)] did his undergraduate and PhD studies here at UW and then joined the Wisconsin State Laboratory of Hygiene in 1988. Pete has created what I think is the premier influenza virus surveillance public health program anywhere in the country. Together with Jeff Davis, who is our chief medical officer for Wisconsin and our state epidemiologist, we are looked at as a state for having this wonderful model surveillance program."

UW Public Research

Scientists here discovered that "genetic mixing" of viruses causes Zoonotic Diseases - "diseases caused by infectious agents that can be transmitted between (or are shared by) animals and humans," (Dr. Christopher Olsen) - in pigs for example, and that pigs can act as an intermediate host of viruses that can be transmitted to human beings like A H1N1 (swine flu).

These virus-mixing hosts (like swine that are uniquely susceptible to bird viruses and human viruses) provide a "phenomenally powerful way of generating genetic diversity," mutations that sometimes can lead to the creation of viruses that are destructive to human beings, said Olsen.

Olsen and others had conducted a study with results that "strongly support the hypothesis that people associated with swine production are infected with swine influenza viruses more regularly than the small number of zoonotic infections in the literature would suggest," published in August 2002.

Thanks to the work of UW-Madison, our state and the world are more prepared for the outbreak of emerging influenza than at any point in human history.

The current World Health Organization (WHO) phase of pandemic alert is 5.

Influenza: A Disease at the Interface of Animals and Human Beings
Christopher Olsen, Associate Dean for Academic Affairs and Professor of Public Health, School of Veterinary Medicine, University of Wisconsin - Madison

- Time: 47:03
- Recorded April 17, 2009

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