Sunday, November 14, 2004

Incoming Influenza Pandemic?

According to the World Health Organization, an Influenza Pandemic is incoming. This is unrelated to the fact that there is a shortage of influenza vaccine in the US (The vaccine in short supply is targeted at a different strain than the feared pandemic-causing one). Vaccine-producing companies throughout the world scramble to design a solution against the strain H5N1 ("H" stands for Hemagluttinin and "N" for Neuraminidase, two viral proteins), who could migrate from birds to humans with devastating effect. Should we be scared?

The answer's both yes and no. Yes because it did happen in the past, and the consequences were catastrophic on a worldwide basis. The Spanish Flu of 1918 killed 25-40 millions people in 18 months. 20% of the world total population got infected to some degree; it affected everyone, not just the traditional groups at risk (old and very young people). If it would happen again, with modern rapid-travel (airplanes, etc), chances are it would be worse, and faster. No medication is efficient at stopping the virus itself, only the symptoms (fever, headaches, sore throat) are targeted by drugs to somewhat relieve infected individuals. An efficient vaccine is still the best bet against flu. Everyone should get vaccinated each year; even if you're not part of a risk group, it helps diminish the spread and mutation rate of the virus.

Links of interest :

US weekly Influenza Report
Killer Flu - Secrets of the Dead
The American Experience

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