Pandemic Flu

An influenza pandemic happens when an influenza virus manages to spread on a large geographical surface, infecting a large number of people. While there are several seasonal epidemics every year and they come on a pretty regular basis, the influenza pandemic is irregular. The most recent and serious pandemic took place close to 100 years ago, back in 1918, and it was responsible for the death of 50 million people. Historical documents prove that in the last three centuries there have been three large pandemics, which took place at every 100 years. In 2009 the world has faced the most recent pandemic.

influenza virus

Influenza Virus

A pandemic happens when a new strain of influenza virus, coming from another species, is transmitted to men and women. Specialists say that viruses coming from pigs, chickens or ducks are easily transmitted to human beings. When such a new strain becomes powerful and is transmitted to people, the humans have no immunity, and this is the explanation why the virus starts spreading so quickly.

The influenza virus travels around the globe due to birds’ migration. Birds get infected and transport the virus in the geographical areas where they migrate. Another means of transportation is represented by the commercial ships that carry bird products and even by people traveling from one place to another.

Pandemic influenzas have been better understood once The World Health Organization has classified them depending on the process in which the virus travels from the first few infected bodies to the human beings. First there is an infected animal; afterwards, the virus infects humans, and then it rapidly infects numerous people, traveling from person to person. The pandemic flu is recognized officially once the virus has reached several geographical areas in the world.

The common influenza may be recognized due to having fever, a sore throat, headache, muscle pain, coughing, general weakness and fatigue. It can get worse when the lungs are affected, and the sick person begins to suffer from pneumonia, which can actually cause death in older or in very young people. These symptoms may sometimes cause confusion, as pneumonia can be considered to be a simple cold.

The influenza virus is transmitted by means of coughing or sneezing. Aerosols are produced as a result, and they contain the virus, which can thus travel from one body to another. Saliva, nasal secretions or blood may transmit the virus. This means that a person may get infected when breathing the infected air, touching the infected secretions and then touching the eyes or nose of an infected person.

The virus can survive for indefinite periods of time at low temperatures, and about one week in the human body. The good news is that detergent, soap and disinfectants can help us avoid getting infected with these viruses.

Between 1900 and 1999 tens of millions of persons died due to influenza, during the three pandemics that took place in this interval. And each one of the pandemics was caused by the appearance of a new strain of the virus, which has been rapidly transmitted from person to person.

Every day specialists all over the world work to create better vaccines, one of the few weapons people have against influenza.

vaccines

Vaccines

Some of the pandemics are minor, affecting only a certain segment of the population on the globe, while others are major, killing millions of people. In 1918 tens of millions died, and other several hundreds of millions were sick during the pandemic influenza. The crisis was so powerful that there were not enough doctors, nurses, hospital beds and medication. The peoples’ dead bodies were even left unburied, as there were not enough healthy people to take care if this matter.

The pandemics come in the so called “waves”, which in the end increase the number of people that die because of the disease.

During the Spanish flu pandemic about 50 million people died. The virus was a new, very strong one and was extremely easily transmitted. Some statistics even mention close to 100 million people dying back then. That pandemic is still considered to be the greatest medical holocaust in history of mankind, killing as many people as the Black Death.

The symptoms of the Spanish flu were so unusual that many people were wrongly diagnosed with cholera instead of influenza. Bleeding was a very common symptom and sick people suffered from nose, stomach and intestine hemorrhage. Still, the majority of deaths were caused by a secondary infection like pneumonia, for example.

This pandemic reached even the Arctic area and the distant islands in the Pacific Islands. Young adults were the most affected, and this was also unusual compared to other situations when young and old people were killed by the disease.

In cases when influenza is manifested only to animals and there are rare situations when the virus is transmitted to people, the risk of a pandemic is low. To prevent the spread of the virus, many countries invest in vaccines and teach the population to get vaccinated. In all major chicken farms, the workers are mandatory vaccinated against common flu and travel is sometimes restricted in the areas were people suffer already from influenza.

When workers are vaccinated, the risk of combining the chicken flu virus with human viruses is low, decreasing the risk of forming a new, powerful, unknown strain of virus.  Another important aspect is the effort of limiting the contact between farm birds and the wild birds that can infect them with viruses, which can then be transmitted to humans.

Farm Birds

Farm Birds

Farming has evolved a lot during the last decades, and efforts are made to teach people how to grow chickens and other birds in a much more hygienic way, in special areas that are properly separated from the places where people themselves live. A lot of money is also invested in creating better vaccines for the vet use, so the animals and birds are kept healthier and stronger.

When a pandemic strikes, in the very first weeks, there will not be an efficient and available vaccine. Specialists need time to develop new vaccine formulas. This explains why powerful, efficient vaccines are launched on the market five or six months after the first few cases were registered.

In the world there are only 19 countries that can produce such vaccines, and medical authorities have declared that in the best conditions, about 750 million vaccines could be produced per year. It is well known that a person should have two doses in order to be immune competent.

Since 2009 the production of vaccines was focused on the H1N1 virus. The vaccines that have been already made in Canada and the U.S.A. are available not only for their citizens, but also for other countries that want to buy them.

There are also two types of drugs that can be used when it comes to influenza. Many countries in the world are trying to make stock piles of these drugs, in order to be prepared for the worst case scenario when the pandemic would strike once again.

Limiting travel, teaching people to regularly wash their hands and cover the face while sneezing are simple, and yet effective methods of limiting the spread of a virus. There have been made masks to protect people in the affected areas, but just the masks alone cannot provide total protection.

Flu Masks

Flu Masks

The Influenza Risk Assessment Tool was created to measure the potential pandemic risk posed by influenza. Among the criteria that are used, there are the properties of the virus (the genomic variation, receptor binding, transmission in lab animals, antiviral treatment susceptibility) and the attributes of the population (immunity, disease severity and pathogenesis, antigenic relationship to vaccine candidates).

The Ecology and Epidemiology include global distribution, infection in animal species, human infections. All these aspects, if well measured and approximated, help specialists understand better the situation that they are confronted with.

Cold and Flu Symptoms and Treatment

According to Louis Kraml, CEO at Bingham Memorial Hospital, some people are much more sensitive than others when it comes to flu illnesses.

Symptoms

Often times, the symptoms of cloud and flu are very similar. It is known that the flu lasts longer and can lead to serious complications, though. If you experience fatigue, fever, pain in your muscles and you breathe with difficulty, you might have been hit by flu.

Flu vaccines, while useful, will not be efficient each and every time. It is crucial to have a strong immunity; this way, you will fight the flu much easier.

Treatment

The first important step that you can take to get rid of flu is to ensure that you are able to breathe properly; if you have a runny, blocked nose, it’s going to be hard for your body to receive the oxygen it needs. The good news is that by inhaling eucalyptus oils, for example, you will be able to clear the airways.

Speaking of airways, it is important to inhale fresh air. Since most people work in air conditioned offices, the germs can easily spread from one to the other.

Drinking plenty of liquids will help; think water, tea, etc and stay away from soft drinks – they’re going to do more harm than good. A good soup will also work wonders.

Low quality food (fast food) has a low nutritional value, so it should be avoided.

If you have caught a cold or flu, you need to be very careful. Try to get as much rest as you can, because this will strengthen your body.

Make sure to get in touch with your doctor without delay; otherwise, the cold or the flu can lead to severe complications – bronchitis, for example.

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Recent Flu News

1. Researchers at the McMaster’s University have come to the conclusion that influenza is related to a cloud that, at least in Canada, moves around during the fall season. The specialists concluded that in this country, flue spreads due to the high humidity and low temperatures, from west to east. These conclusions are useful, as those involved in flu prevention can take all needed measures in order to diminish its impact. As an example, the timing of the vaccinations could be calculated so that people could get the biggest benefits out of them.

2. New developments in technology will soon mean being able to have access to a home test that diagnoses influenza rapidly. The quicker the diagnostic, the more rapid the interventions, so that the virus will not spread.

The test was presented during the 246th National Meeting and Exposition of the American Chemical Society. It is know that the test will also be able to identify the flu strain, so that the best treatment can be prescribed. The test will resemble to the fast and inexpensive strep throat test or the home pregnancy test. During this meeting, a number of 7,000 presentations and discoveries were presented to the audience.

3. Micro-needle patches will make life easier for all those that are afraid of vaccines. The discoveries were published in a recent issue of the Clinical and Vaccine Immunology magazine. Micro-needles are indeed a method that eliminates the pain that people may experience during normal vaccinations.

4. According to Louis Kraml, CEO at Bingham Memorial Hospital, about half a million people die every year because of flu complications. This explains why so many researchers are trying to find out who are the people that present a higher risk of getting sick. A recent study has showed that obese people and new moms are considered risk groups. These categories may even have a higher risk of death or severe complications.

5. A team of pediatric doctors that represent five of the biggest pediatric emergency networks have established the risk factors when it comes to kids and H1N1 infections. Children that arrive at the hospital with influenza like illness due to H1N1 were analyzed by specialists.

It is known that children present a higher risk if they have a history of chronic lung disease, have signs of chest retractions, suffer from dehydration, have a developmental delay, and need oxygen to keep blood levels normal, or have higher heart rates.

6. Studies have concentrated lately on the emergence of inter species transmittable viruses. Genetic diversity of the viruses in the body of an animal can easily allow a virus to adapt to certain conditions, and then reach the human body. These studies have helped the scientists understand how new viruses in animals can infect people.

7. Many times doctors do not know for sure if a particular illness is caused by viruses or bacteria. But often times, if antibiotics are prescribed and it is not a virus that caused the illness, the treatment is not efficient. Scientists from Duke University have developed a blood test that is capable of telling weather a virus or a bacteria has caused the problems.

8. Gene therapy allows the scientists to take cells from the nose, for example, and then transform them into antibodies that have the power to fight against the flu; the process was tested with mice. If the method is effective for human as well, powerful flu vaccines could be thus produced within the following years. This discovery can be useful in other health related areas, as it could fight against different strains of viruses. At present, doctors are working at identifying all the dangerous types of flu, developing a vaccine that will treat a broad spectrum of possible patients.

9. Most Americans, before calling a doctor, use Google to verify their flu symptoms. This way, Google has access to data that allows it to track the spread of the infection, by measuring the number of searches that are using flu-related keywords. Louis Kraml explains that by using these trends, Google helps us detect regional flu outbreaks.

10. Recent history tells us that bird flu can have a powerful impact on humans as well. It is for this reason that specialists have tried to understand the birds’ immune system. So far, data is quite surprising: there is an important element in the immune system of many animals that plays an anti-inflammatory role, but this element was not yet identified in birds. So, at present, scientists try to understand how birds are combating diseases.

11. Researchers from British Columbia University have created a vaccine that stops the spread of West Nile virus among birds. The pathogen is related to mosquitos, and it arrived in the US back in 1999. Since then, the virus has killed 286 persons. In Canada, in 2012, 42 persons died from the same reason. At present there is no vaccine on the market that can protect against the virus. Crows, ravens and jays carry the virus, and the mortality rate in their cases is sometimes close to 100 percent. According to the specialists, the West Nile virus is also a real danger for rare bird species.

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