As usual, the media at first ignored the issue of Pandemic Influenza and then hyped the crap out of it. Scientists say it’s not a matter of if, but when and what specific type of Influenza will kill millions this time around.
The 1918 Influenza Epidemic killed about 50 Million people around the world. The total population of the planet was around 1.8 Billion people, so 20 Million is a small percentage. Still it’s nothing to sneeze at. (Uh, sorry about the inadvertent pun) For comparison 8.5 Million died in WW I.
I bring all of this up because the 1918 Epidemic has intrigued scientists for almost 100 years. While it was well established that Pneumonia killed most of the victims no one knew exactly why this Influenza was so much more deadly than others in recorded history. Until now.
Researchers in Wisconsin and Japan have discovered three genes in the viral strain of 1918 that caused the Ferrets used in the tests to die much more rapidly than other flu strains. The combination of the three genes caused a higher mortality rate than the same virus without them.
“Why is this important?”, you might ask.
Knowing the genetic make up of a virus so virulent as the 1918 strain will help scientists develop better vaccines to protect humans from the next big Influenza.
At least we can hope so.
UPDATE and Bump: New bird flu cases revive fears of human pandemic
Yet H5N1 has continued to “at the very least smolder, and many times flare up” since the chain of outbreaks began in 2003, said Michael T. Osterholm, director of the Center for Infectious Disease Research and Policy at the University of Minnesota in Minneapolis.
The year-end uptick is a reminder of how quickly the situation can turn as long as the H5N1 virus is still out there, Osterholm and other scientists said. “What alarms me is that we have developed a sense of pandemic-preparedness fatigue,” he said.