Discuss the Possibility of Global Pandemic in Modern Times

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  • Topic: Influenza, Avian influenza, Influenza pandemic
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  • Published : November 18, 2009
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Discuss the Possibility of Global Pandemic in Modern Times
When we are talking of the possibility of a global pandemic it is not so hard to imagine as it is a current reality, the risk and rate of infection seems to be steadily on the increase. A pandemic is a worldwide epidemic that, according to the World Health Organisation, (WHO) has to meet three conditions; the infectious microbe infects and causes serious illness to humans and humans don’t have immunity against the Virus. This virus can also be spread from person to person and survives within humans[1]. Pandemics are not new, the world has been suffering the nasty bugs for almost as long as people have been walking the earth. Influenza for example was recorded as far back as 412 B.C., when a man named Hippocrates wrote of an uncontrollable outbreak of disease that had very similar symptoms as influenza .[2] This pandemic devastated an entire Athenian army, and has occurred every hundred years since.

Influenza has been responsible for many deaths over the years. In the 1300s we discovered the Black Death, this disease, (believed to originate in China) was responsible for killing a quarter of Europe’s population[3]. Perhaps the worst of all influenza outbreaks was the 1918-1919 ‘Spanish flu’ pandemic. “The ‘Spanish flu’ killed more people in a single year than the Black Death caused in Europe over 4 years”[4]

Early in 1957 an Asian influenza virus was discovered, science and technological advances meant that the world was quickly able to respond to this threat, thus making the impact less severe than it might have been otherwise. Hong Kong was the next region to be attacked with a pandemic. In 1968-1972 the ‘Hong Kong flu’ was responsible for a significant number of deaths. Luckily the flu was often treatable and controlled with antibiotics. In 2003 Hong Kong came under siege yet again and had to fight against severe acute respiratory syndrome, (SARS)

Yet another flu scare rocked the world in 1997 when avian influenza killed millions of poultry in Asia, Africa and Europe. When it was first discovered, as many as one and a half million chickens had to be slaughtered in China. A growing number of human beings have been infected. There have been two hundred and forty-eight deaths in twelve countries to date [5].

The most recent pandemic we have been faced with is A(H1N1) influenza (swine flu). It is the most virulent outbreak since the same (h1n1) strain devastated Europe in 1918. There are many theories as to the source of “the mother of all pandemics”[6]but most, like David Goulding, writer of Big Issue thinks, “conditions at the end of World War One may have contributed to the spread of the virus and hence the scale of this pandemic”.[6]The virus became known as the Spanish flu because of the attention the Spanish press gave it. Although flu has always been a risk to infants, elderly and the weak/already sick, Spanish flu was different, it also killed off the healthy in the prime of life. By the end of the reign of Spanish flu it had taken the lives of approximately one hundred million people, an exceptionally severe pandemic.

Writers for the occupational health magazine have said, “swine flu was officially declared a pandemic by the World Health Organisation in June, with nearly thirty thousand cases world wide, including more than one thousand in the United Kingdom.” [7] The virus behind the pandemic may be known as swine flu, but it did not only come from pigs. Wild birds and humans also played a role in its creation. Scientists are still trying to unravel how it wound up infecting humans and spreading rapidly around the globe. Swine flu is a triple reassortant that is actually a combination of classical swine flu, a North American avian flu, and a strain of human flu. Somehow a single pig became simultaneously infected with that virus and a pure swine flu strain that had been found in pigs in Europe and Asia. The two strains swapped genetic material to...
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