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Pandemic Flu

Dangers of Pandemic Flu

07/07/2008

Question:

I remember a flu pandemic back in the 60`s. I think maybe it was called the Asian Flu? It wasn't anything like the doom and gloom scenarios they paint in all the pandemic flu planning we have had to do at work. From what I remember - I was a young teenager at the time - there weren't massive school or work closings back in the 60s. Maybe a few more people than usual were absent, from school and work, but that`s about all I remember of it. Why is the next flu pandemic predicted to be so much more disastrous?

Answer:

The Asian Flu was caused by an H2N2 influenza virus that later did an antigenic shift to become an H3N2 influenza virus (see the Wikipedia.org site for a concise discussion at http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Asian_Flu#Asian_flu). It caused a case-fatality rate 0.5 percent or less. The type of influenza that has been causing outbreaks in birds in Southeast Asia and the Middle East is an H5N1 bird influenza (http://www.pandemicflu.gov/). The case-fatality rate for the human cases of this bird influenza to date is 63%.

The concern is that if the H5N1 bird influenza mutates so that it can more easily infect people, then there could be an influenza pandemic that would be much worse than the 1957 Asian Flu pandemic and possibly more severe than the 1918 Spanish Flu outbreak. Also, see the Wikipedia.org web site at http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Pandemic_influenza for a discussion of pandemic influenza.

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Response by:

John  Andrews, MD, MPH John Andrews, MD, MPH
Assistant Senior Vice President Medical Center
Director University Health Services
University of Cincinnati