We are bombarded by dire warnings of impending threats.They fall into two main catagories.The first is the natural disaster. We are warned that
statistically we are overdue to have another Yellowstone eruption, Ice Age, or giant Asteroid impact. The second is a manmade terrorist threat. Sarin,
Anthrax, Smallpox, Plague, any or all in danger of being imminently spread by Islamic extremists.
The threat I'm going to dedicate this Op/Ed to has an omninous track record having killed up to 50 million people worldwide in the last century
alone. I'm going to talk about influenza (flu), specifically H5N1
. The W
rganisation has now advised
governments that they should now consider stockpiling vaccines in preparation of another global pandemic, this new advice is the opposite of the
traditional advice of wait and see and some countries already have including the U.S.A, France, and Italy but don't think you're safe just because
your country is buying vaccine as you'll find out by reading this there won't be enough to go around and it's doubtful it will work anyway.
Why Call It H5N1 ?
Let's start at the beginning and look at influenza itself. Influenza is a virus. There are three types of Influenza known as Type A, Type B, and Type
C, of the three only Type A is of real deadly concern.
The Type A virus can be classified into further subtypes by two proteins that appear on the surface of the viral particles. The two proteins are
aeagglutinin and N
euramidase. There are 15 varieties of H
aeagglutinin and 9 varieties of N
euramidase meaning that there
are 135 possible combinations of the two proteins, and therefore of Type A influenza. The worrying and deadly variety of avian flu now circulating in
Asia is classified as H5N1
Pandemics occur at irregular intervals, ranging from between 11 and 42 years. The last pandemic was atleast 35 years ago.
Pandemics Of The Last Century
Known as Spanish flu, it was classified H1N1. More died in the pandemic than in World War One. Estimates range between 20 and 40 million worldwide. In
the UK almost 200,000 died, 50% healthy young adults. For many the disease killed within just a few days.
Asian flu, classified as H2N2. Is thought to have killed around one million worldwide. The virus spread from China to Europe and the US. In the UK
Known as Hong Kong flu, classified as H3N2. Again is thought to have killed around one million worldwide, the elderly being most susceptable. 78,000
died in the UK.
How Does H5N1 Compare ?
In the US in 2002 and 2003 there were 2 recorded cases of H7N2 there were no deaths indicating that this variety of Type A influenza is quite
In the Netherlands in 2003 there were 89 recorded cases of H7N7 and one recorded death.
H5N1 is in a different league.In Hong Kong in 1997 18 people were infected, 6 of whom died. In Vietnam and Thailand in 2004 there were 45 cases of
which 33 died, so far in 2005 there have been 9 recorded cases in Vietnam and Thailand and 8 deaths.
Luckily, all of these cases appear to have been passed from birds to humans. It does not appear to have yet mutated into a new strain of human flu.
The big pandemics always occur when the deadly avian flu combines with the highly infectious human flu.
The problem with flu vaccines
There are problems which would mean that you vaccines might not be as effective as you might think.
1/ As has been noted above there are 135 combinations of Type A Influenza and a vaccine for one combination will not necessarily work for another. The
current deadly strain is called H5N1 but what is known as an
always occurs before a major pandemic
when the avian flu combines with the human flu. It is no good stockpiling vaccine for H5N1 because when the pandemic occurs, as it surely will, it
almost certainly won't be H5N1.
2/ For an Influenza vaccine to be effective a person normally needs 2 vaccinations before they are immune.
Because of this there are two approaches now being taken by governments in the light of the World Health Organisations latest advise. Some governments
are stockpiling a generic H5 vaccination which would act as a primer while the exact vaccine is being produced once the pandemic has started. This
idea that an H5 vaccine would work as a primer is untested and it may simply not work at all.
The U.S.A have ordered 4 million doses, France and Italy have ordered 2 million doses each. Make absolutely no mistake about this, not everyone will
get a vaccine and this option is only for the wealthy nations.
The UK and many other nations are following the traditional approach of producing vaccine only when the pandemic strain has become apparent and
identified. This plan is being now re-evaluated and may change.
Some will also remember that Chiron, one of the leading flu vaccine manufacturers, based in Liverpool can't start production until their
contamination problems have been solved.
The latest data published by British scientist suggest that there could be far, far more cases of deaths due to this strain of flu than had been
previously thought and that some victims might show symptoms closer to meningitis than typical flu.
That an influenza pandemic is imminent is not in doubt. Not only is it statistically due but governments are already spending good money on
precautions. Consider also how much international travel has developed since the previous pandemics and ask yourself how much time would it take to
spread, how much time between you first hearing about it and it being in your neighbourhood ??
[edit on 24-2-2005 by John bull 1]