This is the way the world ends, not with a bang, but with a whimper (T.S. Eliot)
When it comes to describing pandemics I don’t think there is a better description then the quote above. The reality is that pandemics are a real threat; the recent swine flu is proof of how fast a virus can spread around the globe. While the death’s related to swine flu are low when compared to other pandemics such as the Spanish flu of 1918, the occurrence of major outbreaks is rapidly on the rise. With travel restrictions decreasing, and the amount of travellers increasing we are in a prime position for a major deadly virus to wreck havoc on civilization. But how much do you know about the flu virus and how it can become such a deadly pandemic. Here is some information to help you understand just how real this threat is.
What causes the flu virus to change from a seasonal flu to a killer pandemic variety occurs when there is a notable genetic change or genetic shift in the circulating strain. Because of this huge numbers of the population will be vulnerable to the new strain because their bodies simply haven’t encountered this virus before. There are 3 types of flu virus simply referred to as types A, B, and C. C strain flu virus’ are considered to be the mild forms of the virus, it’s the A and B varieties that can rapidly spread due to human contact, air, and contaminated surfaces that pose the biggest threat of becoming a pandemic.
The flu virus has an approximate incubation period of 1 to 4 days for the infected individual will show signs of being sick. (The virus itself can live on surfaces for up to 48 hours by the way). The average Adult once infected will be susceptible to transmit the virus usually 1 day before showing the first signs until about 5 days after initial onset. This means that an individual say for example on a business trip can become infected overseas, spend a couple days in country without any noticeable signs. Then come home just before the onset of the illness and infect hundreds of people including friends, family, and coworkers.
Now take this to a global scale where millions of people are travelling all over the world each month. Imagine a handful of individuals become infected and travel home to their perspective countries. Within a week their families and those who came in close contact with them are now sick and dying. Now add the fact that even with new flu virus that were developed to combat the swine flu (H1N1) may not work for a new strain. It also generally can take a month or longer to develop a vaccine, and 5 to six months for enough vaccine to be made to vaccinate small numbers of the population. You have to also remember that most drug manufacturing plants are not located in North America but in places like South East Asia or other third world countries where labour is cheap. If workers at those plants become infected the production of drugs will cease.
Another important note to remember is the number of new outbreaks of flu virus that have been reported. Between 1997 and 2009 there have been 6 outbreaks or new strains of flu virus (More then half of all major flu virus outbreaks in the last hundred years) while these virus have had low death tolls it should be remembered that the flu virus can easily mutate.