A different pandemic, looking back at H1N1


SIOUX FALLS, S.D. (KELO) — A mysterious virus caused a pandemic, limited where travelers could go, and had people stocking up on hand sanitizer. We’re not talking about COVID-19. More than a decade ago, we were fighting H1N1.

The World Health Organization said it was the first pandemic since 1968, and then President Barack Obama declared it a national emergency. We dug through our KELOLAND News archives to find out how the world responded, and what is similar and different compared to today’s fight against COVID-19.

It started out slowly.

“It may not have hit home yet, but the South Dakota Department of Health is taking action.”

“We’re asking that when patients come in with an influenza-like illness with flu symptoms that those tests, that physicians are testing those patients,” Doneen Hollingsworth, former secretary of health, said in 2009.

It took a while before people took H1N1 seriously.

“I definitely think it’s being over-hyped,” Shelley Groce of Madison said in 2009.

“I think if you use common sense, wash your hands, make sure you are using sanitation if you are at work or whatever I think you’ll be okay,” Debra Roddel of Sioux Falls said in 2009.

It didn’t take long for H1N1 to escalate. In 2009, the H1N1 flu pandemic spread globally. In that first year, the CDC estimates there were more than 60 million cases and the virus killed up to 575,400 people. Initially, people called it “swine flu.” Symptoms are very similar to the human flu: coughing, sneezing, fever and chills. And like seasonal flu, this strain can cause underlying chronic medical conditions to get worse.

“This virus is expected to spread to other areas and cause additional people to become sick,” Lon Kightlinger, state epidemiologist, said.

At this time, global leaders were limiting travel, we were sanitizing counters, and people were wearing masks.

“In South Dakota, masks are few and far between,” former KELOLAND News reporter Ben Dunsmoor said in 2009.

“We don’t have any. Tough to come by,” a store clerk said.

Does this seem familiar? It is, but it isn’t. Kelli Hanson from Twin Cities Live, who worked at KELOLAND News for six years when she was Kelli Grant, covered H1N1 extensively and remembers seeing state leaders respond.

“I remember them kind of comparing it to what they had to do for 9/11. Just the fast-acting, fast-thinking, ‘what happens if we’re hit hard?'” Hanson said.

Hanson also remember the initial H1N1 process concluding rather quickly.

Brady: “When H1N1 was unfolding, did it feel like the future was as unknown as it feels like it is now?”
Hanson: “You know, what was interesting about H1N1 is I got to cover, I went to Iowa, where they were making the vaccine. So, that gave people hope.”

Sanford Health infectious disease specialist Dr. Wendell Hoffman says H1N1 and COVID-19 have some similiarities. They’re both respiratory illnesses that spread from person to person, they both threaten vulnerable populations, and we don’t have innate immunity to either. However, they’re quite different. COVID-19 is more contagious and more mysterious right now. He also says the H1N1 vaccine was key to recovery.

Brady: “Did that give people a lot more certainty and maybe an idea of when the pandemic would end?”
Hoffman: “The essence of a vaccine is you can protect yourself as you develop immunity. What we’re doing now is the community is acting as the immune system. Through our social distancing, we are functioning as a big immune system.”

H1N1 now seems like a distant memory, as a new fight against Covid-19 continues.

Copyright 2021 Nexstar Media Inc. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten, or redistributed.

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