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More People Die by Guillain-Barre Disease Than by Swine Flu Essay (Critical Writing)

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Updated: Feb 14th, 2022

Introduction

The purpose of this paper is to analyze the Guillain-Barre Disease and the swine flu epidemic of 1976-77, to discuss their causes and outcomes, and to find out why the Guillain-Barre Disease was deadlier than the predicted swine influenza. There are maybe many reasons for what happened back then: a political farce, lack of scientific facts, the communication problems between the political leaders and the scientists. The measures were taken against the swine flu outbreak in 1976 was a failure because of the excessive confidence in scientific foresight and they led to the catastrophic development of Guillain-Barre syndrome.

Main text

Viruses are found wherever there is life, and they are believed to have existed since the evolution of living cells. Viruses spread in many ways, and in plants, they are often transmitted from one plant to another by insects. In animals, they can be carried or transferred by blood-sucking insects. Although the flu virus is considered a controlled infection, it remains unique. The ability of this virus to continually change with the appearance of strains with fundamentally new properties makes the flu unpredictable and dangerous. And today, despite the accumulated knowledge and modern achievements in virology genetics, molecular biology, chemistry, and the presence of high technology industries, the fight against the flu virus is not weakening.

According to the standards of the World Health Organization, annual vaccination is the most effective method of preventing influenza epidemics and pandemics. Inactivated influenza vaccines are used in substances for flu vaccination (“Influenza (Seasonal)”, 2018). The effectiveness of an influenza vaccine depends on how well the circulating viruses match the viruses contained in the vaccine. Because of the ever-changing nature of influenza viruses, the WHO Global Influenza Surveillance and Response System (GISRS) – a system of National Influenza Centres and WHO Collaborating Centres around the world – continuously monitors influenza viruses circulating in humans and updates the composition of influenza vaccines two times per year (“Influenza (Seasonal)”, 2018). It is worth noting that the vaccine does not entirely exclude the possibility of getting the flu, but it minimizes the risk of complications of the disease, as well as the occurrence of a fatal outcome.

The WHO Global Advisory Committee on vaccine safety has registered and studied cases of quite serious side effects when using certain vaccines (“Global Advisory Committee”, 2020). It turned out that universal immunization of the population is not an option, but vaccination of risk groups, with mandatory consideration of medical contraindications, carried out in the pre-epidemic period, can be effective. Most people who are vaccinated carry the flu shot quite easily, and there are no side effects or complications.

In 1976, trust in vaccination among the population dropped completely, when reports emerged saying that it caused Guillain-Barre syndrome. That year, there was an outbreak of swine flu (H1N1) in Fort Dix, New Jersey. (Flu Epidemics) Experts were afraid that the virus was similar to the 1918 Spanish Flu, which killed 50-100 million people worldwide. Hence, to prevent that, a massive vaccination campaign was organized by the U.S. government and 45 million Americans were vaccinated against swine flu. Since the start of the program, the vaccine has been linked to an increase in reports of Guillain-Barre syndrome, which can cause paralysis, respiratory arrest, and death. “Within weeks, reports surfaced of people developing Guillain-Barré syndrome, a paralyzing nerve disease that can be caused by the vaccine” (Harrel, 2009, para. 1). The vaccination program was discontinued after about 25 percent of the United States population was introduced to vaccines.

According to Goodfellow and Willison (2016), Guillain-Barré syndrome causes changes in the feeling of pain or the development of pain, as well as about muscle weakness, starting with the legs and arms. Symptoms develop within half a day to two weeks. In the acute phase, Guillain-Barre syndrome can be dangerous to life. In about a quarter of patients, there is a weakening of the respiratory muscles, which requires artificial ventilation. Researchers note that some patients experience changes in the functioning of the autonomic nervous system, which can lead to dangerous abnormalities in heart rate and blood pressure (Goodfellow & Willison, 2016). Because the peripheral nerves are attacked by the body’s immune system, this autoimmune disease damages their myelin isolation mistakenly, sometimes this immune dysfunction is associated with infection.

Flu and vaccination against it is a burning topic of modern times. Guillain-Barre syndrome is rightly considered one of the most severe post-flu complications. Researchers state that “No one completely understands the causes of Guillain-Barre, but the condition can develop after a bout with infection or following surgery or vaccination” (Roan, 2009, para. 20). Opinions of scientists on this issue are divided; some believe that the risk of Guillain-Barre syndrome is due to vaccination after the flu and advises the patients to think twice before deciding on this step. Another group proves that the danger for this syndrome is just the flu itself, and immunization against it significantly decreases the risk of getting the disease.

The only person who died from swine flu in 1976 was a soldier from New Jersey and this was the only “confirmed” case. According to Roan (2009), more then 500 people developed Guillain-Barre syndrome after the vaccination; and 25 of them died. As for the swine flu, 200 cases were registered, and one death was ultimately reported in the U.S. Just because of this one case, as well as a couple of hundred other people who had flu-like symptoms, a broad swine flu a vaccination campaign was initiated by President Gerald Ford (possibly to create an image of the nation’s defender), at the cost of $ 135 million (approximately $ 500 million today).

Conclusion

Lack of information, scientific facts, and fears caused by the Spanish flu of 1918 led to the launching of a vast vaccination program. The policymakers and health experts made hasty decisions without taking into account all the possible consequences, and they acted too soon without

gathering enough evidence. Afterward, it was proved that there was no threat of a new swine flu epidemic. Researchers state that “Influenza viruses are infrequent triggering agents of GBS but may play a significant role during major influenza outbreaks. Influenza-related GBS displays specific features and is not associated with anti-ganglioside antibody response, which suggests the presence of underlying immune mechanisms” (Sivadon-Tardy et al., 2009, p. 48). Thus, more people were affected by GBS than by Swine flu because the threat of swine flu was false. The most significant harm can be caused by the fear of an outbreak of the flu. As a rule, people forget about precautions under the influence of anxiety and panic. The scale of flu reports is always larger than the actual risk.

References

Flu Epidemics and the 1976 Swine Flu Pandemic That Never Happened. Global Advisory Committee on Vaccine Safety. (2020). Web.

Goodfellow, J. A., & Willison, H. J. (2016). Guillain–Barré syndrome: A century of progress. Nature Reviews Neurology, 12(12), 723.

Harrell E. (2009). Web.

(2018). Web.

Roan S. (2009). Los Angeles Times. Web.

Sivadon-Tardy, V., Orlikowski, D., Porcher, R., Sharshar, T., Durand, M. C., Enouf, V., & Lebon, P. (2009). Guillain-Barré syndrome and influenza virus infection. Clinical Infectious Diseases, 48(1), 48-56.

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IvyPanda. 2022. "More People Die by Guillain-Barre Disease Than by Swine Flu." February 14, 2022. https://ivypanda.com/essays/more-people-die-by-guillain-barre-disease-than-by-swine-flu/.

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