November 9, 2004

Looming influenza pandemic

According to a number of infectious diseases experts, the human population is on the verge of another influenza pandemic--this one being the H5N1 avian strain from Asia:
“We're very limited in what we can do for this virus,” Dr. David Heymann of the World Health Organization told participants at the two-day conference, organized by the University of Toronto and St. Michael's Hospital's Centre for Global Health Research.

“This virus is rapidly spreading around the world, the fear of course being that H5N1 from chickens will enter a human and . . . reassort to form a human influenza virus which will then have genetic characteristics of a human virus, spread rapidly around the world and cause deaths,” said Dr. Heymann, executive director of the WHO's communicable diseases division.

The process Dr. Heymann was referring to would mark the start of a new influenza pandemic, an event most flu researchers believe is both inevitable and overdue.

In the 400 years of recorded influenza history, pandemics have occurred on a regular if sporadic basis. The longest period between pandemics has been 30 to 40 years, noted Dr. Allison McGeer, an infectious diseases specialist at Toronto's Mount Sinai Hospital.
Assuming that it does indeed infiltrate the human population as expected, I would predict that 1) due to countermeasures and other health interventions, the effects will not be as devastating as previous outbreaks, and 2) if it does wreak considerable havoc, it's the kind of thing that will force people's head out of the sand in regards to the potential and need for further research and development into novel medical interventions and health technologies--including the potential for such things as the ability to decode a virus's genome and develop counter-phages and immunizations.

1 comment:

Mark Plus said...

Other things being equal, viruses don't respect religion, class and wealth. It would serve the triumphalist Republican elitists right if they catch this flu from their coughing underlings and many of them die from it because they've stripped out the public health infrastructure in this country. Their irrational aversion to taxes for funding badly needed public goods is going to bite them in the ass really, really hard some day.